Whether it’s a small family business opening a coworking space or a large corporate expansion in the city, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher always celebrates the ribbon cutting with a pair of big scissors. He should come to the venue for this. . Under Steinocher, the Chamber’s staff has worked diligently for many years to grow and expand St. Petersburg’s business community.
Despite years of improvements and victories, Mr. Steinocher handed a check to Hancock Whitney Bank to finally settle the long-term debt that at one point brought the organization to the brink of bankruptcy and dissolution. That was last week.
Steinocher first became involved with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce in the 1990s when he served as COO and senior vice president of marketing and business development for the Tampa Bay Partnership, a position he held for 17 years. . At the end of 2010, he left the partnership to become president and CEO of the chamber.
At early Chamber meetings, members worked to save the Vinoy Hotel, which had been closed for 20 years and had fallen into disrepair. Steinocher was impressed by the effort.
“I was struck by the can-do pioneer spirit, but when I returned in 2010 I realized how bankrupt we were morally, spiritually and economically,” he said. Told.
“When I came here, we didn’t have a clear financial picture. On the third day, we realized we were the largest chamber of commerce in the region with 2,400 members. However, there were only 666 paying members.
With limited dues collections and crippling debt, the chamber was struggling to pay its approximately 20 employees.
“My first month’s salary in January was supposed to be over $100,000, but I only had $54,000 in the bank. I owed $798,000,” Steinocher said. .
“Board members came up with various options. One was bankruptcy and the other was to close down operations or sell the building,” he explained.
The building, located at 100 2nd Ave. N., was purchased in a $2.5 million deal. Steinocher said the decimal point has now changed and the property is valued at $25 million.
“Selling the building would have solved the financial problem, but now you’ve left your city and your organization and have nowhere to go. We decided to lay low,” he said. .
Through his existing relationship with Hancock Whitney Bank, Mr. Steinocher drafted a financing and internal restructuring plan.
The new plan reduced costs, including employment. The executives were re-interviewed to keep their positions.
Steinocher led by example. To save himself some administrative work, he picked up a broom and got to work himself.
Members claim he was also stripped of his personal salary.
“At the moment, we didn’t have enough money for the first and second payroll and we were scrambling,” he said. “But we had some good players willing to step up.”
Fast forward: The Chamber now has more than $400,000 in the bank.
“We asked everyone to regroup under new high values. I valued my life, my brand, and being transparent,” Steinocher said. said.
He also sought to rekindle broken ties with neighborhood organizations and form new initiatives.
“I asked St. Pete’s leadership team to come back to the table. We treated them too badly from the previous administration. They are a group of 54 years old and have some of the best leaders in the community. “We have produced many students,” Steinocher said. The LSP is now a division within Parliament.
Additionally, the Chamber helped establish The Greenhouse, a resource center for startups. It originally operated as a business assistance center and was renamed by former Mayor Bill Foster.
The organization also developed the Grow Smarter Economic Development Strategy in 2014, which led to the creation of the St. Pete EDC and Innovation District in 2016, according to the chamber’s website.