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Chamber of Commerce changes with the times

At the start of the new year, the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce will change its leadership with the creation of the new position of staff president.

Currently, the Chamber is run by an association of volunteer leaders making up the executive committee of the Chamber of Commerce. This volunteer committee works closely with the paid executive director, Brian Ditto, to fulfil its goals. Now, the Chamber leadership is looking to hire a staff president to run the Chamber full-time, with the volunteer leaders acting in an advisory capacity.

With the creation of the staff president, Ditto's position, which he has filled for 13 years will be eliminated. Alice Reid, Chamber treasurer and owner of Compassionate Tax said the loss of Ditto will be a blow for the chamber.

"I have nothing but respect for Brian Ditto. He has been an extraordinary manager, but we're looking for a different skill set," Reid said. "We need someone who can hit the ground running."

Ditto said the plans to create the position of staff director have been worked on for most of the year.

"The Chamber is very volunteer heavy, in terms of reporting duty," Ditto said. "I had a lot of leeway, but you essentially need the permission of the board or the executive committee to move forward. They're finding a way to streamline the process."

Brian DeLeonardo, Chamber president, said the new position will be responsible for the chamber's success.

"The best way to describe it is that this person will essentially be running it like their business," DeLeonardo said.

DeLeonardo said the new position will be responsible for creating and promoting their own programs, in contrast to the role of the executive director, which he described as primarily a coordinator for the programs of the executive committee.

Reid said the decision to create the staff director position was influenced by the current economic climate.

"The economy has changed a lot in the past five to 10 years. Volunteers no longer have the time to dedicate," Reid said. "We want to have someone to act as an in-house leader who will run the Chamber like a business."

Reid said they have already started receiving some excellent resumes and they hope to have a staff president by the annual meeting in February.

"I'm thrilled at the caliber of candidates we've got," Reid said. "We expect to find someone with an entrepreneurial spirit to look to creating some programs that are truly substantive."

Some of the programs Reid said she would like to see include meetings to help businesses be more strategic and take advantage of tax changes.

District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond said that she hopes the reorganization increases membership in a difficult time.

"Reisterstown is such a unique area. I think it's going to take a lot of hands-on work with the businesses," Almond said. "I think bringing the business community together is important, and I think this reorganization will help spur that momentum."

Joe Schonfeld, Chamber member and owner of FASTSIGNS of Owings Mills, said that they looked to organizations around the county as inspiration for the reorganization.

"I look at the Towson Chamber of Commerce and they're a lot more visible," Schonfeld said. "They run the 4th of July parade there, and you see the Chamber constantly."

The Chamber will hold a meeting for members Jan. 3 to answer any questions business owners might have.

"We understand this could be disconcerting because Brian Ditto has been the face of the organization for a long while," Reid said. "We want to hear their feedback. We've tried to be as transparent as possible. This gives the membership an opportunity to hear what's going on."

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