Three new chamber presidents take office

Florida Today

by Wayne T. Price

Sunday, September 20, 2015

All of a sudden, it seems, Brevard County has new leadership at three of its four chambers of commerce. 

There are new presidents and chief executive officers at the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida and the Greater Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

This leaves Marcia Gaedcke, president of the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce, as the longest-serving chamber leader on the Space Coast.

Turnover in chamber leadership isn’t necessarily remarkable.  It’s a demanding job, often with a lot of personalities and egos involved. But it seems rare to have so much turnover in such a similar time period.

“It’s unique to say the least,” Christian Malesic, the new president and chief executive officer of the Melbourne Regional Chamber, said of having three new chamber leaders come on board at relatively the same period.

FLORIDA TODAY spoke with the three new chamber presidents to talk about their challenges and what they’re optimistic about as they take over these key business leadership roles.

Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Year Founded: 1925
  • President/CEO: Jennifer Sugarman
  • Starting date: July 2015

 Jennifer Sugarman most recently was director of the Chamber’s Convention & Visitors Bureau for the past 15 months. Before that, she was with the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast for four years.

 Sugarman, who holds a bachelor of science in communication from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, replace Linda Webster who left to take a position with Florida Power & Light.

She sees her role as making sure the organization’s 1,500 partners see results.

“I am thrilled and honored to be selected as the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO,” Sugarman Said, “I am most excited to work with our exceptional staff and volunteers toward achieving our mission of becoming a true catalyst for business success in our region. Our chamber has over 1,500 partners, and with that comes the responsibility of ensuring each and every one feels their investment as a partner is worthwhile and utilized to its maximum potential.”

Sugarman is the only millennial of all the chamber executive leaders.  That energy should pay off as they look to advance it communication efforts and messaging.

”With such a large county, at times it can be challenging to demonstrate to our regional community the benefits our chamber can provide to businesses and the individual, which is why a key focus for our chamber over the next year will be messaging and rebranding,” she said.

Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida
  • Year founded: 1925
  • President/CEO: Christian Malesic, MBA, CAE, IOM
  • Starting Date: June 2015

Before signing on with the Melbourne Regional Chamber Christian Malesic of Reading, Pennsylvania, was the executive officer at the Home Builders Association of Berks County.

Now he’s building something else, getting the chamber membership on board with a singular message that they have a lot to brag about as an organization.  He replaces Christine Michaels who left almost a year ago and now is head of the Greater Brandon (Florida) Chamber of Commerce.

 “I think the No. 1 challenge is getting the message out about all of the good that we do,” said Malesic, who had live in Brevard County prior to his position in Berks County, Working as an engineering liaison to Northrop-Grumman Corp. to design and build the Joint STARS aircraft at the Melbourne International Airport.

Last month the chamber board had a retreat in North Florida to discuss its agenda.

“We believe we’re doing the right things for the right reasons with the right people,” Malesic said. “Unfortunately we’re not always getting on the highest mountain top and singing our own praises and notifying the public, if you will, or involving the community like we want to.”

 The latter will be one of the biggest challenges in the months ahead and Malesic said he is charge up to tackle that task.

 “What charges me up is that I’m in the business of helping people make more money,” he said, “so that they get more free time and spend more time with their families having fun. That’s the business I’m in.”

Greater Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Year Founded: 1989
  • President/CEO: Nancy Peltonen
  • Start Date: September 2015

Before taking a job with the Greater Palm Bay Chamber last Monday, Nancy was involved with the two other Chambers mentioned above, including a position as chairwoman for the Melbourne Chamber’s nonprofit council. Now she’s a competitor of sorts.

She is the former director of marketing and fundraising for Serene Harbor, Inc., a domestic violence center, and said she was excited to make the transition to her leadership position at the Palm Bay Chamber.

 “I have been a member of the Palm Bay Chamber for eight years, and I think the presidency job is rather exciting,” Nancy said. “It’s great to work with businesses, and I really think with my skill set, I can connect with businesses and connect them with each other and raise the profile of the Palm Bay Chamber.”

When asked about her vision for the Palm Bay Chamber, Peltonen said she hoped to increase the number of members and provide more benefits to those members, including training opportunities.

 She added that she planned to leverage her relationships in the Melbourne Chamber and the Cocoa Beach Chamber, and collaborate with both Chambers to create compelling programs for Brevard businesses.  One area of interest for Peltonen is the idea of discussion panels about significant business news and issues, such as development at Port Canaveral.

Peltonen is a past president and the current vice president of finance for the American Business Women’s Association chapter in Brevard County, the Space Coast Women Express Network.

Peltonen was awarded the Melbourne Chamber’s Woman of Excellence Award in 2013, and is a two-time recipient of the Space Coast Women Express Network’s Woman of the Year award.