By Rick Romano
Tosa And West Allis business leaders are tuning-up for enhanced local life, courtesy of a newly combined Chamber of Commerce.
There is more to two chambers of commerce coming together than meets the eye. So say the architects of the move, as well as those they serve.
Joan Hansen, executive director of the Wauwatosa West Allis Chamber of Commerce and Guy Mascari, the chamber’s board chair, said the move not only helped rescue a challenged West Allis chamber but also has brought new emphasis to the organization’s purpose well beyond a business-to-business focus.
Hansen, who arrived at the Tosa Chamber in late 2019, announced the merger in mid-summer.
“This is a great opportunity for businesses in these two communities whose borders align, to join together to able a strong voice for business and industry,” Hansen said. That voice, she noted, is being shaped to be a connection between businesses of all sizes and local and state officials.
Mascari said the two cities make up a significant portion of the Milwaukee area landscape.
“I kind of look at Tosa and West Allis together because they share a lot of commonalities. They share borders, government representation and residents of each community move easily through both,” Mascari said. “This move simply made a lot of sense.”
Mascari said that increased connection is a benefit to residents and business owners alike.
“For the average person working or living in these communities, what goes on in the Chamber of Commerce may not be apparent,” he said. “But the advantage of a strong chamber is maintaining not only a strong business community for those who rely on them, but also maintaining a strong quality of life,”
Hansen pointed to “connecting the dots” between business and the rest of the community as key. She noted the traditional Tosa Cares event – a partnership with the Salvation Army and local businesses who provide receptacles for clothing and toy donations – is now Tosa West Allis Cares.
“We have been able to expand the program to accept and distribute even more donations,” Hansen said.
Local business members of the chamber, for the most part, echo the organization’s advantages.
“This will provide strength in numbers,” said Jen Puente, Chief Marketing Officer of State Fair Park in West Allis. She noted State Fair Park has been a member of both chambers prior to the merger.
“This will help us keep businesses in the area for citizens of the area,” she said. “It’s especially important to have an organization that can help us connect with one another when we have challenges like we have had this past year. We are creatively thinking outside the box.”
Kim Grob, owner of Locker’s Florist, a business that once made its home in Wauwatosa, said the merger brings together what historically has been distinctly separate business districts.
“I’ll be interested to see how it works,” Grob said. “I’m hoping it will be a strong partnership that has a shared goal of working toward the betterment of both communities.”
Kellie Commons, president of the East Tosa Alliance which promotes its local business and neighborhood communities, characterized the chamber merger as a “cross–pollination.” She said it should be about increasing awareness among both communities.
Michelle Haider, executive director of the Tosa Village BID, said, “It will feed awareness of both communities. In Tosa, you have vibrant retail areas and in West Allis, you have a strong tradition of manufacturing. With the merger, both communities have an opportunity to grow even more by learning from each other.”
The Wauwatosa West Allis Chamber of Commerce is looking to grow as well. Hansen said the chamber as the voice of local business needs to work more closely with local officials. That means stretching the organization’s city ties well beyond business-to-business networking.
“We have local officials on our board, and we are promoting the relationship between business and government,” she said.
Giving the chamber a more visible profile is another goal, Hansen noted. That most likely will mean moving the offices from the current location at the Research Park.
“Our communities have a common border and both communities are very walkable,” Hansen said. “It would be ideal to be as accessible as possible to everyone who wants to know more about the chamber. We want to enhance our connection to both communities.”
Joan Hansen and Guy Mascari bring eclectic leadership backgrounds to the Wauwatosa West Allis Chamber of Commerce.
Before she joined the chamber as executive director, Hansen held positions at various state agencies and organizations. She was a senior policy adviser at the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and former Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. She also worked for more than a decade at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce.
She said her public and private sector experience gives her a broad perspective.
“I think having had those contacts helps me think outside the box strategically,” she said.
Chamber board chairman Guy Mascari is the president and CEO of the Milwaukee Regional Innovation Center and the Technology Innovation Center and has been in its leadership position since 2015. Before the Tosa resident became involved with the innovation campus about 25 years ago, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the U.S. Naval Academy and after earning an architecture degree at UW-Milwaukee, practiced at the city’s architecture firm of Kahler Slater.
Mascari said his background in architecture combined with his interest in real estate has been helpful in pulling together parts of the research campus and most recently as pulling together the business communities of Wauwatosa and West Allis.
“We live in dynamic times,” Mascari said of the new chamber. “We want our voices to be heard.”