The Chamber names new CEO

Martin to replace retiring Balla

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Leadership is shifting at one of the region's largest nonprofit business organizations, The Chamber of Commerce Inc. -- a group that represents the merger of two chambers in Cranberry and the North Hills.

Susan Balla is retiring and Rebecca Martin has been picked as the new president and CEO.

"We have very mixed feelings. We will miss Susan tremendously," said Becky Morrella, marketing director for Morella & Association of Ross and a chamber member who was on the search committee. "She has been an amazing, dynamic lady who has accomplished many great things. At the same time, we're very excited about Becca, who is so energetic and forward-thinking. We believe she's the right person to take us even further than we've come already."

Ms. Balla's last day will be Feb. 15. She said she and her husband will divide their time between Florida and the Pittsburgh area. She credited her colleagues with what she's been able to accomplish as the leader of the chamber.

"If you have a vision, a passion and commitment, you can make things happen if you surround yourself with the right people. We were able to merge two entirely different cultures to form a new one, introducing programs and services not offered in this region. We have built an organization that truly represents the business community here in Pittsburgh," she said.

Ms. Morrella said Ms. Balla's retirement was not unexpected. When she was hired to head the newly merged chamber in January 2010, she had indicated her tenure would be short. "She was upfront telling us that at the time," Ms. Morrella recalled. But, her local contacts as the chairwoman of the Cranberry chamber had edged out Ms. Martin, who had been a contender for the top post at the time.

Ms. Morrella said Ms. Martin rose once again to the top of 180 candidates who had submitted resumes when the national search for Ms. Balla's replacement began in late summer.

The chamber has some 1,100 business members from southern Butler, northern Allegheny and eastern Beaver counties.

For Ms. Martin, who will begin with the McCandless-based chamber Feb. 1, her pending relocation from Austin, Texas, will be a homecoming. Her mom is from West View; her dad, from Glenshaw. Until three years ago, she lived in Erie where her family had been living since she was 11.

She said she's excited to be heading an organization with such a broad reach.

"The idea of three counties and 16 municipalities is clearly an organization that is a centralizing place for business, the community itself, and government. It's a triangle with the intersection at the chamber. The possibilities keep you up at night! It's so energizing," she said.

She said she intends to capitalize on the "vitality of the [commercial] corridors." She said her first goal will be "brand alignment" -- building an emotional connection and identity for the consumer. She said she'll be working to establish the region as a business destination partly by promoting the member communities' individual personalities.

"I see us continuing to build a greater sense of identity and recognition of our footprint using the individual personalities of the member communities," she said, adding that she intends to "look closely at social media and the website."

She said she expects to spend "a lot of time" her first year getting to know business owners, governmental officials and community leaders.

Ms. Martin has a bachelor's degree from Mercyhurst College and a master's degree from Gannon University, both in Erie. Most recently, she was senior vice president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. She has held key leadership positions of chambers and economic development agencies in Michigan and Erie.

In 2003, she was elected to the City of Erie school board and served two years as president following two years as vice president. She was appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell to the Pennsylvania Commission for Women in 2005.

Previously, she was appointed to Mr. Rendell's Transition Team for Travel and Tourism and had served on the Northwest Pennsylvania Travel and Tourism Task Force under Gov. Tom Ridge.

neigh_north

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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