Grove City woman starts as chamber of commerce president
HARRISON: An energetic Grove City woman is the new president of the Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce, succeeding a president who had served almost 20 years.
Mary Bowlin, 42, finished her job Friday as executive director of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, moved to Freeport over the weekend, and started her new job Monday with a monthly board meeting around a table of nearly 30 members.
People around here might know Grove City as "the town next to the Outlets" — a regional destination of 140 stores better known as the Prime Outlets of Grove City. It's a regional shopping destination four miles from Grove City and close to Interstate 79.
Bowlin tried to use that mega-mall connection to the advantage of Grove City area businesses, coming up with a campaign, including brochures, that encouraged shoppers to spend more time in Grove City after their trip to the outlets.
Now she'll be working for the chamber that tries to grow business in the West Deer, Springdale, Harrison and Freeport areas. The Allegheny Valley board members who hired Bowlin said they like the fact that she's had a working relationship with a large retail mall. This may come in handy as the Frazer mall project moves forward. It is looked to as a regional attraction that could spur the Valley's economy.
On Bowlin's first day of work, she was quick to smile and enjoy a joke with others. She shared a story of how she grew up on a farm five miles from where the Prime Outlets eventually set up shop.
Grove City Area Chamber board members say Bowlin's openness to new ideas — and her energy to work them into reality — brought several improvements to the business community during her seven years as chamber executive director.
Among the new ideas Bowlin helped bring to Grove City:
"She worked 60, 80 hours a weeks sometimes," said Connie Blakley, Grove City's chamber board president . "She just did it. Sometimes stuff was just dropped in her lap, sometimes she just wanted to. If there were banners to be made up or posters to be done, she just came in and did them."
The Trade Show increased the Grove City chamber's membership by 50 members, possibly because Bowlin invited non-chamber businesses to showcase their goods, too.
That ability to increase membership caught the attention of board members who were searching to replace Laurie Singer, who resigned the presidency in September after nearly 20 years.
The Allegheny Valley Chamber has about 400 members, most of them representing businesses that have between four and 10 employees. The Grove City chamber has about 270 members.
Michele Pastrick, chairwoman of the Allegheny Valley chamber board, said Bowlin's ability to recruit volunteers helped make the Grove City Trade Show a success. Board members would like Bowlin to bring something similar to the Valley.
The Allegheny Valley Showcase was similar to Grove City's Trade Show, but died out after five years in the '90s due to dwindling attendance.
The Allegheny Valley chamber takes on community issues usually handled by other groups, a proactive quality that Bowlin likes. Members have testified before Allegheny County Council about the value of granting tax breaks to the Frazer mall project. Members, directed by a government affairs committee, have also flooded legislators with letters protesting steel dumping and other business issues that impact members.