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Changing of the guard

By , - Last modified: February 11, 2011 at 1:50 PM

The West Shore Chamber of Commerce will bid farewell to its longest-serving president, Ed Messner, on Dec. 31.

The West Shore Chamber of Commerce will bid farewell to its longest-serving president, Ed Messner, on Dec. 31.

With the new year's arrival, it will hand the reins to Kathleen Mangan, who started work at the chamber Dec. 7. The chamber's board of directors voted unanimously in Nov. 16 to hire Mangan.

West Shore chamber and business leaders said they have total confidence in Mangan to fill Messner's shoes, but no one doubts those are big shoes. Messner, 65, has worked at the chamber for 41 years and been its president for 36.

"He has been and continues to be so devoted to working with the business community on the West Shore," said Susan Staub, president of the Middlesex Township, Cumberland County-based advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Right to Work Inc. "It's more than that; it's his passion for the West Shore, for the business community."

Much of that passion materialized not only in support for businesses, but also for improved services to everyone, said Chick Zoll, chairman of the West Shore chamber's board and an insurance agent with New Bloomfield, Perry County-based Don Jacobs Insurance Services Inc.

Messner's accomplishments include bringing people together to talk about hospital and emergency services for the West Shore, Zoll said. Messner was instrumental in organizing for the founding of Holy Spirit Hospital and West Shore Emergency Medical Services Inc., both part of the East Pennsboro Township-based Holy Spirit Health System.

"Those are two of the bigger things that Ed has helped the greater West Shore area with," Zoll said. "Health care issues have always been big to Ed."

The ambulance service, the chamber's efforts alongside the state and other groups to keep West Shore military bases open, as well as opposition to initiatives that would have increased businesses taxes were some of the most important accomplishments, Messner said.

Looking to the future, he said businesses and the region will change much in coming years.

"We're heading into the second decade of this century, and these entities are changing, so we have to talk about making some changes," he said.

Mangan is the best person to usher in those changes, he and others said.

Business attraction and retention will be central issues, Mangan said. To make that process go smoother, the chamber will revamping and expand its membership as part of the board's three-year strategic plan, she said.

"I want the chamber to be the go-to entity," she said.

That includes reviewing programs and services to make sure that the chamber is offering things that today's businesses need, as well as opening the chamber to include more non-profits, government and nontraditional organizations, she said.

"Focusing on businesses alone, without regard for the peripheral, is only tackling one side," she said.

The chamber can be more involved with helping to develop the culture and amenities that will make the region attractive to people and companies, she said. Outside those issues, Mangan declined to give a laundry list because she's still learning about the area, she said.

The chamber selected Mangan, who is from the Scranton area, in a national search for Messner's successor. Mangan, 48 and a Scranton native, moved to Hampden Township, Cumberland County, in November from Kingston, Luzerne County. She most recently was director of Junior Achievement of Northeastern Pennsylvania Inc. Mangan worked for the organization for 10 years.

She also was a regional director for the American Diabetes Association and a director with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Pennsylvania, which serves.

Mangan's community and education background could be helpful as she begins working with the community because preparing students for the work force always is a hot topic among businesses, Zoll said.

"It comes up all the time with other businesses," he said. "People are always saying, ‘Boy, I wish I could get qualified employees.' "

The recession and struggling businesses will be another issue that Mangan finds important as she takes over the day-to-day leadership of the chamber, Staub said. Although Central Pennsylvania is better off than other parts of the country and state, it still has companies that need assistance to get through the tough economy, she said.

"(Mangan) has the ability to work hard with the business community to tackle these things," Staub said.

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