Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce debuts with 800-plus members

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 9:54 a.m.

Thursday night's kick-off event for the Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce ended with a fireworks display at Lingrow Farms in Gilpin.

Now, the new chamber hopes to set off fireworks daily in the local business community.

About 125 businesses and professionals were represented in what chamber officials hope to be just the first of frequent get-togethers among members.

The organization is a merger of the former StrongLand chamber, the Allegheny Valley chamber and the Armstrong County chamber.

Membership in the group eclipsed the 800 mark on Thursday.

“Tonight is the night we demonstrate that we are now a merged chamber, ready to serve our members,” said Frank Amato II, chairman of the 15-member board of directors. “I challenge all of you to take advantage of your chamber membership and your expertise.”

Officials hope a bigger chamber allows for more networking among business people and a larger influence in governmental legislation, among other goals.

Members, such as Mike Ligo of Quality Life Services, seem to be on board with the bigger chamber.

“Any time you have a merger, there's more people, a more complete organization to provide resources for each other,” said Ligo, a 14-year employee for the company that operates the West Haven, Sugarcreek and Fair Winds nursing homes.

“This is such a good idea,” said Steve Rusek of Kittanning-based Farmers & Merchants Bank.

“There's so much this region has to offer. It's so much more effective when you have a regionwide organization.”

A Springdale native, Rusek has been in the banking business for 22 years.

Thursday also was the day the chamber debuted its website:

Facebook will allow members to communicate with others and the general public.

“The website will be the biggest part of making connections,“ said Mary Bowlin, vice president of operations for the new chamber and former Allegheny Valley chamber president.

Added Bowlin: “With a Facebook page, members can now ‘like' each other's Facebook pages.”

As a nod to modernizing the chamber, Alle Kiski Strong will have a subgroup of young professionals from the area.

Vice Chairman Curt Marino of Seita Jewelers in Tarentum hopes that getting younger people involved in the chamber will bode well for the future.

“A lot of great ideas have already been thrown back and forth,” Marino said. “They are the future of the chamber.”

Officials had a large bowl where members could contribute ideas and a form for members to fill out and check off committees they would like to be a part of.

Ashly Pepples, a former student at Lenape Tech, won the logo contest with a design that features a factory, a river, a well derrick and a professional office.

Board Secretary Chad McCutcheon of McCutcheon Enterprises said the chamber office will remain for now at the old Allegheny Valley location in Highlands Industrial Park in Harrison.

The office will move at a later date.

The fireworks were donated by chamber member Glory of High Fireworks of Kittanning.

The next big chamber event scheduled is the business expo in the Pittsburgh Mills mall on Feb. 14-16.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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