Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber gets new captain

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When it comes to running the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber, Jim Boltz of Cranberry may be wearing a different hat. But what occupies his mind isn’‍t all that different than before he took the reins July 14 as the chamber’s new executive director.

As the former chairman of the chamber’‍s board of directors, he’s intimately familiar with — and preoccupied by — its membership, its assets and its goals. In fact, that deep involvement is what led him to apply for the position.

“When the position opened up, I was board chair. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got such an interest in this group — a personal interest in its success. I’m going to put my name in,’” Mr. Boltz recalled.

Becky Morella, a past chairwoman of the board who helped lead the search process since the previous director Rebecca Martin left without much notice or explanation, said Mr. Boltz’s past leadership position made him a shoe-in.

“We conducted a national search. He was not treated preferentially at all. In fact, there was actual discussion about whether his familiarity [with the chamber] could be a deterrent [to his being hired as executive director],” Ms. Morella explained. The bottom line: “He went through the process as everyone else did and he came to the top of the candidate pool,” she said.

There were 247 applicants from across the United States and beyond for the position. That pool was reduced to 15 candidates, who were given phone interviews. Then seven were brought in for face-to-face interviews. A field of three final candidates was identified and interviewed. In the end, Mr. Boltz was chosen.

“All three would have been great, I truly believe, but Jim was the best. He was the strong and clear leader,” Ms. Morella said.

She believes he will bring a level of consistency and stability to the agency, which has undergone great changes in the past few years: a merger, three changes in top management since 2010 and an expansion of its service territory. Even the name was changed Jan. 1 from simply The Chamber to the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber.

“Jim has been on our board and has been very involved for years. He was with the Cranberry Area Chamber of Commerce when we were merging with the Northern Allegheny County Chamber of Commerce, and was on the task force [to complete that merger] as well as the transitional board.”

In addition to the institutional knowledge of the chamber and a passion for the organization, Mr. Boltz brings a proven record of business successes and the experiences of being an entrepreneur in the region. A former general manager for Kaufmann’s Department Store, in 2005 he purchased a Minuteman Press franchise in Cranberry, which he followed with the purchase of a second North Hills franchise, tripling revenues and employing six people.

“He made his businesses very profitable while being very civic- and community-minded. When he got involved with the chamber, he spent an enormous amount of time and energy on it,” Ms. Morella said. He has been a member for nine years and a board member for eight. He became chairman in January after Ms. Morella’s one-year term ended.

She said his community roots and love for the region hold the promise of stability for an organization that has been in flux. “We believe he’ll stick around. It’s good to see the ship with the right captain,” she said.

The chamber, which has about 1,000 members in 16 municipalities in Butler, Allegheny and Beaver counties, has several goals for the coming year. As past board chairman, Mr. Boltz played a significant role in crafting the objectives, saying he will do all he can as executive director to shepherd them to completion.

One objective is to strengthen the chamber’s financial operations. The group, with an operating budget of $600,000 annually, lost $92,000 in 2013. “We had a terrible year,” he said. He believes the problem rested in the revenue end as opposed to expenses. “We lost opportunities for revenue,” he said, in terms of falling short on selling advertising, luring members to events and building membership.

Other goals include building member relationships, marketing the group under its new name and offering more practical educational programs for small-business owners.

The chamber has offices in Cranberry and Pine.

“Our footprint — the territory we cover — is about the fastest growing in Pennsylvania. There’s so much potential for us to get even bigger and more vibrant,” Mr. Boltz said.

The new board chairman will be John D. Laslavic, who will serve until the end of 2015. He is a business, marketing and client-builder sales coach, who founded and owns ThistleSea Business Development.

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

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

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