By Pete Banda
Four years ago, the wheels started moving. Then, two years ago, things started to get really serious as Lionel Betancourt helped lead the Chamber of Commerce back into existence in San Benito. Fast forward to the middle of 2017 and it’s unlikely even Betancourt saw the Chamber becoming such a prominent entity in the community in such little time. For their efforts in building up the Chamber from scratch, the Chamber of Commerce Board has been awarded the San Benito News 2017 Citizens of the Year award.
While the Chamber has been operating for some time now, it was last year when things really kicked off. Within a three month span of 2016, the Chamber, led by Betancourt at the time, established their current board and hired former City employee Sandee Alvarez as Executive Director. They haven’t looked back since, helping to put together a health expo with a 5k bike tour, the extremely successful “Coffee with” speaker series, and the upcoming Casino Nights celebration, to name a few.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since everything got started on this path, but it’s been quite an experience,” stated Alvarez. “We’ve done a lot to this point and hope to continue growing.”
The journey to reach the point they are at has been a long one to say the least.
The IRS revoked the San Benito Chamber of Commerce’s tax-exempt status in May 2013 after it failed for three consecutive years to file IRS Form 990 tax reports, which is required for non-profit organizations. As a result, Betancourt helped to establish the Area Business Owners Association (ABOA) to “pick up where the Chamber left off.” The ABOA eventually changed their name to the San Benito Chamber of Commerce and the rest is history.
Now, led by Board President Toni Crane, the Chamber is focusing on reaching their goal set last year of sustaining 200 members. They are closing in on that goal every day and currently have over 120 members enrolled with them.