Recent Commentary
Author: Lacey Toledano Created: 2/4/2009
Lacey O. Toledano has served as C.E.O. of the St. Tammany West Chamber since September 1999. A graduate of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management, she is one of the most experienced and tenured Chamber professionals in Louisiana. The West Chamber has been twice accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a distinction achieved by less than one percent of all Chambers of Commerce, and was named Louisiana Chamber of the Year in 2005 and 2008.  During her tenure it has seen a 25% growth in membership, and made significant strides in building a united business voice in collaboration with the East Chamber and other business organizations in the region.  

  April is EXPO and membership month at the St. Tammany West Chamber.    

It’s an era of winning, strengthening communities and building new relationships. 

This is the theme the members of our board, committee chairs and staff of our Chamber are carrying out this spring through our committees’ work, events and programs.  We are building on a strong foundation established in the past decade, and for decades before that when our 1,000 member strong organization roots were established. 

A membership drive is currently underway. Over 60 current members gathered at an event hosted at and sponsored by Mark and Donna Benfatti of N’Tini’s in Mandeville for a kickoff to gather applications and specifics about the benefits of membership.  Several team captains, led by Mike Dugger of Runners Choice & City Soccer and Nancy Lee of Ron Lee Homes, will lead small groups of volunteers who understand why a strong Chamber is important in this growing parish and how businesses can benefit.  

Team captains are as follows: 


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My back yard is growing!  That is how I feel after returning from the recent U.S. Chamber Committee of 100, bi-annual meeting last week.   

This committee is comprised of the country’s leading chamber chief executives.  The U.S. Chamber’s board and executive leadership rely on these members to provide advice to enhance chamber lobbying and coalition work, recommend programming, and strengthen outreach to the business and chamber of commerce communities across our country.  The bi-annual meetings deliver leadership development through high-impact presentations by business experts, leading authors, discussions on pressing policy issues and CEO-to-CEO breakout sessions. 

During the February gathering we were joined by members of the U.S. Chamber’s Board of Directors and Small Business Council, further enhancing our information gathering ability to take back to our own business communities.  Together we heard from Bruce Josten, Executive VP for Governmental Affairs, and Dr. Martin Regalia, Sr. VP and...

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               We refer to our Chamber as the “Voice of Business,” dedicated not only to promoting and supporting business development, but also to representing our business community at local, state and federal levels.  

            The Joint Public Policy (JPP) Committee is the working group of this operation, whose mission is to collaborate with parish officials to identify projects and policies comprising a legislative agenda to be advanced during regular and special sessions of the state legislature.  

            The JPP has a unique structure, being comprised of appointed leaders from three organizations, the St. Tammany East and West Chambers, as well as the Northshore Business Council.  Several years ago the group hired a legislative advocate, which enabled a stronger voice in the Louisiana legislature and the ability for additional undertakings.  We are moving ahead full force on this front, and have just recently hired Dino Paternostro as our new advocate.  Dino has made a respected name for himself representing GNO, Inc. and was paramount in the effort to put them on the radar in Baton Rouge.  We are thrilled to welcome Dino as part of our team and to help us best serve our organizations’ members.  


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                  Leadership has been defined in several ways.  Among the most simple of explanations is “walking the walk”—not just talking about what needs to be done, but actually making it happen.   

                  Our Chamber is fortunate to have many leaders among our ranks, particularly those that make up our Board of Directors, Executive Committee and committee chairmen.  It is these individuals who carry out our purpose and mission.  Together, they work to promote business in the community, provide programs and activities that benefit our entire 1,000 plus members, and strengthen the business climate of St. Tammany Parish.  

                  The 2010 Executive Committee has been recently elected, and is made up of eight business leaders, each who donate a great deal of energy and expertise to advancing our goals and objectives, in the end, accomplishing specific tasks through their leadership. 

                  Our 2010 board chairman will be Michele Avery...

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            In an effort to recognize that local businesses contribute to our great north shore quality of life, each year we seek nominations for our Business Appreciation Awards.  This year’s winners were recognized at the special November luncheon where awards were presented in eight different categories. 

Recipient of the All in the Family Award, Coscino's Pizza Italian Restaurant is a successful family-owned and operated business, established in 2004.  Mike and Jamie Coscino, together with their son, Jeremy, and daughter, Danielle, cook all the food using secret family recipes.  

The EEIC Award, an acronym for “Encourages Employee Involvement in the Community,” was awarded to Capital One where they strongly believe that the value of its corporate support is made even greater by the volunteer efforts of its associates.  As of September, 210 northshore associates contributed a total of 2,925 hours of service to various community organizations this year.  

Best Buy is a business that prides...

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            Out of the Chamber’s 1,000 plus members, 80% are small businesses.  As such, the efforts of our Small Business Advisory Council (SBAC) are invaluable to our membership.  The SBAC assists members through job fairs, recognition awards and trade shows.  They keep abreast of trends and issues affecting the small business community in order to plan seminars, workshops and training sessions.  SBAC members also play an active role in nominations for the annual Business Appreciation Awards, which recognize achievement in a range of categories from business longevity to community participation by employees. 

             The SBAC strives to lead and support business development and growth through market-driven education, business networking, and opportunities for workforce development.  With this mission in mind, the SBAC has embarked on an impressive and detailed strategic plan for 2010, which calls for action from three newly formed subcommittees.

             The Business Networking/Growth...

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            The St. Tammany West Chamber’s board of directors is made up of local business professionals who are passionate about the chamber and its mission.  Board members serve a three-year term.  At the end of every year, six members rotate off and six new members take their place. 

               We are pleased to announce our newest board members for the 2010-2012 term, each of whom has committed his time and talent to advancing the goals and objectives of the chamber: Mark Benfatti, N'tini's; Scott Delacroix, Adams and Reese LLP; Mike Dugger, Runners Choice & City Soccer; Kirk Landry, Florida Marine Transporters, Inc.; Craig Marinello, Next Step Resources; and Kieran Weldon, Fauntleroy & Latham, Inc. 

             In addition, advisory board members were also selected.  These were chosen as a result of recommendations made by the nominating committee and specific appointments by the incoming chairman, all of whom will serve a one-year term.  The advisory board members for 2010 include: Janet Fabre-Smith, Fabre Smith & Company; Sally Kingston, Merrill Lynch; Laurie McCants, Honda of Covington; James Stewart, Charter Business; Catherine Wilbert, Nutrition Company/Vitality, LLC; and Donald Villere, St. Tammany Parish School System. 


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            The party’s over! Yes, our largest annual fundraiser, the $10,000 Raffle, was held August 15, and it was lots of fun, especially for the big money winner, Pam Angelle.

            The party is also over in other less literal ways.  The time has come for local citizens to pay closer attention to the issues of the day, ask questions, and speak up. There are more than enough sources of information today in addition to radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and the web—we now have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and yes, even more sources than “just” those.

             I became a news junkie post-Katrina.  Despite all these new sources of information, I still get much of mine from television.  Ironically, our big party was the Saturday after one news show announced the day known every year as “tax-free day,” the day that we really start to take home the money we work so hard for, the day that our taxes for the year are paid.

             Now wait a minute, I thought!  That day is in...

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The end of the regular Louisiana legislative session on June 25 brought with it the beginning of an onslaught of summaries of just what happened from a variety of our collaborative partners throughout the state. As of this writing, most of you that keep up with state legislative issues are aware of the bills that passed or failed and how they will impact us as citizens and taxpayers of Louisiana.

Our partners at the East St. Tammany Chamber hosted a legislative wrap-up luncheon. A majority of our northshore legislative delegation members gave brief points summarizing how they felt about the session. Most of what I heard from them was frustration. Of course it is always frustrating, even for a family to try to make ends meet, when the income does not meet the needs and expenses. Our legislators’ frustration centers on the way the state budget has grown in the last 20 years at an extremely fast rate.


Among the words used to describe the session were: bedlam, ridiculous, no priorities, and...

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The St. Tammany West Chamber is fortunate to have a Board of Directors and Executive Committee comprised of a wide range of individuals who understand our purpose and mission. Together, they work to promote business and the community, provide programs and activities that benefit our entire 1,000 plus members, and strengthen the business climate of St. Tammany Parish. 


The Executive Committee is made up of seven business leaders, who each donate a great deal of their energy and expertise to advancing our goals and objectives, in the end accomplishing specific tasks through their leadership.


Our 2009 Board Chairman is Jean Champagne. Holding a C.P.A. and J.D. degree, Jean was promoted to the main leadership role after serving in several other capacities primarily in the area of governmental affairs. He has traveled to Washington, D.C. on several past Chamber fly-ins where he served as our spokesperson to congressmen, senators, and presidential cabinet leaders. He has led...

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Results of the work done within our chamber by both staff and volunteers are sometimes intangible. We can assure our membership by numbers, we can measure fundraising events by attendance or dollars raised, but we cannot accurately measure the results that working together collaboratively can net. 


What is the sum value of ten Chambers of Commerce working together with the executive office and alumni association of a major university? 


The sum is a larger presence and voice before the over 200 members of the Louisiana legislature and statewide elected officials in the Capitol Rotunda. That is just what happened Wednesday afternoon, May 13 after weeks of planning our annual “Northshore Focus” event.


The Chambers of Commerce working together included St. Tammany East and West, Lacombe, Amite, Independence, Ponchatoula, Hammond, Livingston and Bogalusa. Helping lead the way were Erin Moore-Cowser of Dr. John Crain’s office and Kathy Pittman of the Alumni Association...

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The St. Tammany Healthcare Alliance, representing seven member hospitals and the East and West St. Tammany Chambers of Commerce, share a vision with common goals and focus.  For the last three years, the Alliance has built a coalition around widespread healthcare concerns and is addressing the crisis of the workforce shortage in healthcare.

 The healthcare industry employs 13,000 people in our parish. Collectively, Alliance member hospitals have a significant economic impact in our parish employing over 4,750 people with a total payroll of more than $218,604,400.  Yet, shortages in nursing and allied health professionals continue to exist.  The Alliance is taking action today to address these demands and build and support the industry with highly skilled healthcare workers.

 How has the Alliance addressed these needs?  Productive partnerships with Delgado Community College, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana Technical College have enabled the Alliance to begin to build the capacity...

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