Dean became the president of the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce as businesses began shutting down due to COVID, so he had quite the challenge from the beginning. Dean brings a fresh approach to the Palm Harbor Chamber and took the challenge of being the president head on. In this episode, we talk about his experience with other chambers and how that shaped his approach into how he goes about his role as the President. We also discuss what makes Palm Harbor such a unique place to call home, so tune in and hear from your president of the Palm Harbor Chamber.
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Dean Maratea | Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce
In this episode, we have a great guest with us. I’ve been excited to sit down with Dean Maratea. He is the President of the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Dean started when everything was shut down because of COVID. He had a huge challenge coming in as the new President of the Chamber to overcome. He’s crushed it. He’s done a great job getting more people involved in the chamber, hosting more events, creating more engagement with the chamber and stuff. I’m excited to sit down with Dean and learn what he has to say, learn from his background and experience. He’s got some great things coming up with the Palm Harbor Chamber and Palm Harbor Community. Let’s get into it.
Dean, welcome. I appreciate you jumping on the show.
Thank you for having me.
Dean, you are the President of the Palm Harbor Chamber. You got into this position in 2020.
2020 was my first anniversary.
How has that been?
Everybody remembered the day because it was the day everything shut down. I heard about a business in St. Pete that opened on St. Patrick’s Day of 2020. They opened at 1 and we’re closed at 5. That’s the day that everybody recalls when this pandemic became official in our area, at least. I remember signing my contract and the chairman of the board said, “President, what do we do? Every business closed down.” I had a plan. I wasn’t unfamiliar with using virtual technologies like Zoom, Teams or whatever was available to me. I wasn’t so afraid of it but I’m leading a group of 40 70-year-old business owners through Zoom call.
It was interesting. It was a learning curve for them to learn the technology and how we were going to communicate for the foreseeable future because who knows what an end date is at that point. The learning curve for me on how to educate these members on how we’re going to start doing things and coddling them into that acceptance of, “We’re going to be meeting this way for a little while. Let’s stay as a community. Let’s get on the Zoom calls, see how we can help each other out, what each other needs and not lose any of that communication.” It was a pretty fun experience for me because I like a challenge. It gave me a chance. I got to meet and know a lot of people through Zoom and we’re all there being supportive. That bonds people a bit.
They didn’t have the choice to resist me, coming into the position. When I finally did meet them and they saw I wasn’t as tall as I am on Zoom, it was a good meeting. I was like, “Finally get to see you face to face.” A good energy exchange. I saw it as advantageous to take the position when I took it. I hope that the members are grateful that I came into the position as well.
With the timing of it, you have to come in with that mindset of, “We’re going to make it work. Here’s how we’re going to do it right.” You come into that position, not having any previous background in being a President of a Chamber, probably helped you.
That’s what I look at it as well. One of the things the chamber does is there is a link to the county, especially for Palm Harbor. Since we’re unincorporated, we don’t have a city hall. The chamber does governmental gap at times. During my first 3, 4 months, that was so pivotal that every business and person in the community had the information on PPP loans or whatever pinholes care grants were available to them, whether it’s on a personal level or a business level. Disseminating all of that information where the numbers are at and everything. I was very happy to be a resource for people.
There are a lot of people that started emailing me back or on the Zoom calls that said they don’t even watch the news anymore because it’s depressing. They know that they got the information from Dean. I was making sure to be as detailed as possible. I had the county administrator. I sent her my notes before sending them off to everybody to make sure they were accurate based on the press conferences that I was watching every day and all the legwork I was doing on my end. There was one time where she goes, “You’re getting these out quicker than I am but you’re telling it to all the people before the county is.” I take everything that I do seriously. I don’t take myself seriously but the stuff I do for.
Where does that come from? Is that a trait that you’ve always had or grown up with?
I’m a Virgo so OCD. You have to be the best in all those things. I was always pushed by my parents. They’re big into family, religion and education. If I didn’t show up for Mass on a Sunday then I heard about it. If I got a B instead of an A then I had to answer questions. It molded me to the point that nobody’s going to devanned more out of me than me and I’m grateful for that trait.
To back up on your story, you’re not originally from the area.
I was born and raised in Connecticut, came down to Tampa Bay many years ago, left and came back a few hundred times seemingly. I’m a bit of a gypsy. I planted my roots after leaving and coming back. Every time I left, I missed St. Pete and Tampa Bay. We experienced gray skies wondering, “Where’s the sun?” We’re so spoiled. It’s awesome. I knew I was planting my roots, found this position and it gave me even more of a reason to.
What have you learned about the Palm Harbor Community in 2020?
A ton. The people have been super supportive. It’s a giving community. I have the pleasure of working with a lot of local charities. Even if it’s not for a fundraiser that I’m doing or a charity event that I’m even a part of, knowing how many people are supporting it and their community, it’s a very nuclear community and it centers around itself. It’s there for its people, citizens and businesses alike.
A lot of people like to fish, golf and get out on the water. Those three things come naturally in this area. The business landscape goes from small to big in all points in between. It’s a great area. It’s gearing up to be the local Key West. We welcome tourism. It’s more stable for the locals. It’s where they want to play, hang out and spend their free time.
I’ve never heard that before but that’s an interesting way of putting it and it makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of residential areas of Palm Harbor especially by the water and the downtown areas.
It’s been a tricky area to identify because you have to realize it extends to East Lake and Boot Ranch and there are also the top ten communities of Crystal Beach, Arizona. To me, it’s 5 times put into 1 area. Each one is distinctly different. East Lake is certainly a golf community. Boot Ranch has its little pocket in the middle of all of it but it’s on East of 19 then you have your Palm Harbor proper and the two little beach communities that each have their characteristics. It’s an anomaly and one of a kind.
It’s unique in that way because it’s not like Dunedin. Most of Dunedin is in the downtown area. It’s pretty cool. What makes it special too is you can have a little bit of everything. Going back to what a Chamber does, instead of saying what does the chamber suppose to do, I want to know what your vision is for the Palm Harbor Chamber.
I’ll back that up a little bit because my experience is very similar to yours. Seemingly with most people, you join a chamber because it’s on your checklist of things to do. When you’re opening a business, starting a business, entering a new community with an existing business or something like that, you join a chamber. You get an invoice in the mail every year and most people pay, I hope. What do you do with that? What can it do for you? Those are great questions. My vision for the Palm Harbor Chamber and the direction I’ve been taking it and will continue to are three pillars.
There’s the business networking aspect of it. We host weekly events that small business owners can come and attend. We have breakfast hours, lunch hours, after hours, mixers and things of that nature. We host bigger events. We had a 5K and fishing tournament coming up. There is fun networking and things that can bring the business community together. That’s one. The others were nonprofit. If I don’t have any members and there are no small businesses then I don’t have a job.
That ties me tight to the other nonprofits in Palm Harbor and is surprising which ones are. For instance, the Palm Harbor Library and Palm Harbor YMCA are both nonprofits. I don’t think that a lot of us are educated to that point, how much each of those organizations and the chamber does for the community, raising funds for those who need it and things like that. The 5K raised over 600 pounds of food for the feast food pantry. There’s that charitable aspect to it so that would be the other pillar. We’re unincorporated so we’re staying in tune with the county. It all ties together.
If the charities know what’s going on in the county or what grants are available to them, they can take advantage of it. If a business knows what’s developing in the counties, they could jump on certain properties or know where they should move their location, to what demographic might be coming in from marketing personal reasons. For the charity, it helps to know who’s in the area, what businesses need, what businesses can do to support them or how they can collaborate. With these three things moving forward, I only see upward momentum for the community.
Getting on Zoom lets people stay as a community and see what each other needs and how they can help each other out.
There’s been a shift and momentum from when you joined in 2020 and the way how things are handled. Communication has been a big push to improve the chamber, how people interact with the chamber and stuff too. Awareness to the charities too. There are a lot of them as a feast food pantry. I only learned about them but I had no idea that they were right there and I’ve lived in Palm Harbor for quite some time. What can people do to get involved in the chamber? If you’re a business, they have networking events and stuff.
That’s the biggest question is and that’s for every business. How do you reach your audience? It gets even more difficult when my audience is an entire community but we have a calendar of events on our website, PalmHarborChamber.com. Come to an event. We’re doing a trail cleanup and something for the education community. Come to one of the lunches. Our lunches are in anywhere from 30 to 40 business leaders. You’d be tied to people that can help you, refer business to you and be probably one of your better referral sources. I work with other specific networking groups in the area. I’m happy to collaborate with them and other chambers. I want everybody to be successful.
Where does that mindset come from? The Palm Harbor community, Dunedin community and sometimes small business community itself seems like there’s support there for everyone involved. It’s good to have that.
The way I look at it is if you make $10 million in 2021, which I hope you do, Donnie, that’s not $10 million out of my pocket. I have that opportunity to make $10 million of my own. I want everybody to have that mentality of, “How could I help you?” By helping you, maybe I’m getting my name out there a little bit more or expect nothing and let karma handle the rest.
It’s like the mindset of abundance. There’s enough for everyone involved. Maybe we talked about this but have you read the book The Go-Giver?
That’s one of my favorites.
It’s a great book with the same approach.
I read that book on my way out to Vegas when I was going to a trade show. It was a quick read. I took a lot away from it. The biggest one that I probably still have trouble with is opening myself up to receiving, which is funny, given my role but I’m that giving type that when somebody wants to do for me, I almost get awkward about it. I’m denying them that feeling. That’s probably the most challenging for a lot of people.
It seems like you handled the whole COVID thing pretty well. Beyond that, what’s been a challenge that you’ve had since being the president?
I would say two main ones. The first is communication, getting the message out to everybody, answering these questions that we’re discussing. A lot of people don’t know what a chamber does and how you get that out to every business. To that same end, the second challenge has been getting people to participate. It’s only two of us in the office. It’s Joyce and myself. There’s nothing that drives us crazier like somebody renews their membership but we don’t even know who they are. They’re only like, “You keep the doors open and the lights on. I’m so happy about it but I don’t want free money. We’re working every day for it. Take advantage of what we’re providing.”
Getting people to come out, do the networking events or come and do a fun event with us when we host. We have one every couple of months or so. Communicate to me what you want or need. If there’s a fun event that you have an idea for, give me a call or shoot me an email. I’m all ears. I don’t need to do things the traditional chamber way. I want to benefit everybody around me. That lack of communication and participation has been the biggest challenge.
Maybe that goes back to our initial thought of what the chamber does.
It’s getting that messaging across. Maybe chambers should be more than they are ad do things differently. I’m not sure what that is but that’s what I’m here to find out.
I did ask someone if they had questions for you and I get one response so I’m going to ask you. How does the chamber help young professionals who are new to business?
There’s a group within the chamber. Palm Harbor had been affiliated before I arrived with a few other chambers. The Upper Tampa Bay Chamber, which is Oldsmar West Chase area, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor and Dunedin. The 5 of us make up the 5-chamber coalition. If you’re a member of this chamber then you’re also a member of the Bay Area Young Professionals. It’s a subset that is all-inclusive. If you’re a member of Dunedin’s, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s involved. We’re having a networking mixer up in the Tarpon area, Maggie Mae’s.
Come and get involved. There’s a lot of education involved in the chamber wherein you can come to a networking event and see how people do their 30-second pitches. Learn how to connect with the right people, rather than going and trying to introduce yourself to 40 people at a lunch. Come and see me. Ask me who the important people are to know in this group. There might only be 2 or 3 people that pertain to you. I know the whole group and all 40 people in that room.
Use me as a resource. Come straight to me and say, “Dean, I’m a real estate agent. I’m looking for a title guy and a lender. Who do you have?” I could point you in the room. “That guy over there is great. Don’t go see him. Go see that one. That person makes cakes if you want it to congratulate somebody.” I can put those pieces together for you. We have workshops that also revolve around educating people on how to network, how to fine-tune their pitch and who to go after. That would be a complementary and good reciprocal business to get and give referrals to.
It circles to building that community, finding those people that can help you and your business too.
For young professionals, the demographic is shifting to the late 20s to mid-40s in the chamber. It’s not what people may think. It’s a whole bunch of people on the verge of retiring and passing their businesses along. It’s a lot of new up-and-coming businesses that are probably the most active at chamber events.
Is that only the Palm Harbor Chamber where you’re seeing that or is that across the board in our area?
I would say in the area. I’m here to promote all chambers, not only Palm Harbor, for sure. If your business is in Clearwater, St. Pete, get involved in the chamber but the biggest thing is to use it. It’s cheaper than a gym membership. That’s what I look at it. It’s comparable to other areas. I know that. I’m only shouting out my price. I’m not doing busting into it but ours is over $300 a year, less than $30 a month to have 4 networking opportunities in 1 month to get the education. To get my ear and tell me what you want and need, I’ll give it a shot. If you have an idea for an event or you need an introduction to somebody, I’m sure I can make you over $300 in a year.
Let’s step away from the chamber stuff and talk to me about what you enjoy doing in your spare time when you’re not being a president of the chamber.
Long walks on the beach right where we live. That’s a very true statement. I do love the beach. I like a lot of physical fitness. I used to do triathlons. I still like to get out on the bike and the pool. I don’t have to run because it’s not part of the race. I choose not to run. You’re a runner, aren’t you?
I like running and I don’t know why. It’s a challenge physically to keep moving for that time and mentally you have to keep pushing forward. It’s a good challenge.
I’ve done marathons, half-marathons, you name it. Probably in training, everything combined, I had a couple of thousand runs in my life. There have probably been three that I’ve enjoyed. There’s something about my body and running that I don’t get. I have good form. It doesn’t hurt me. It’s not one that I don’t get shin splints or anything like that. It’s not my favorite but I get your point about pushing. That’s what my bike and the gym are for. It’s pushing my limits.
The pool is meditative because once I get into my rhythm in the pool and I’m breathing, you have that cadence that you have to maintain. Hearing the bubbles from your out-breath underwater roll by your face is very soothing. It’s very therapeutic for me. You’re in your space. You can deal with whatever thoughts are going through your mind. You can’t breathe too fast so even if your mind is racing, it slows your mind down a little bit to think a bit more clearly if you can get into that meditative part of it.
The biggest question for every business is how do you reach your audience?
What’s the longest race that you’ve had to run?
I did a full marathon, a full Ironman.
How many miles is that?
That’s a 2.5-mile swim, 110-mile bike and a marathon.
Have you finished with the run?
Yes. You got to figure out safety so swim, bike and run. You’re not hurting anything by stopping. My favorite distance when I did it was a half, which is a half of all those numbers. 1 mile and 1 quarter swim, 53-mile bike. The run there is a half marathon. It was a fun experience. In one of my past lives, I worked with the eCommerce startup that sold fitness electronics. Think like the Garmin watches, GoPros and the fancy bike computers. They tell you every possible stat.
You had all the technology then.
I was selling and using all that technology, got a lot of free samples, nice free trips and the opportunity to get engulfed in that industry in sports. That was a good experience.
What is it about the half? Is it more manageable and enduring on the body and stuff?
It’s easier to pace. If I’m doing something shorter than that, I’m going full tilt. I might burn out before the run like you’re walking on the run and cramping. With that one, you’re forced to pace yourself. I’m always strongest on the bike. I like to swim but I’m not fast. With the bike, I can put some power down and get out there enough so that I can have a gap for the run, maybe. I was never competitive. I was competitive in sprints that were comprised of twenty other people. I can maybe be in the top ten. I wasn’t going to make the pro circuit any time soon.
That’s an incredible sport too because it’s you against you at the end of the day.
It’s very mental because realistically, you wouldn’t upset anybody if you gave up at any point in that race except for yourself.
I like to wrap it up. This might be a tough question for you but what’s one of your favorite local businesses? It can be any business.
Honestly, I’m writing a little bit of sympathy for something terrible that’s happened to them but also a lot of support. I’ve become friends with Joe Swett. He runs Sunrise Irrigation HVAC and AC. He’s right across the street from me. That probably plays a part in it but he’s very community-centric as well. He is the President of the Merchants Association. With him and I work in closely together, I see a lot of big moves downtown. With what he does, a lot of people don’t recognize that the company gives so much to so many different causes that the YMCA was doing a food drive. They filled the truck with a box truck of food for the feast food pantry on the spot.
He’ll be contesting at work and drive everything for the community. He’s starting a new academy, which is a cool facility. It’s got a big classroom that can fit about 60 and 3 rooms off of it. 1 for electric, 1 for irrigation, 1 for AC with live and dummy units in each of those rooms. You could almost do field training. You go straight from the classroom graduate to these rooms. He loves nothing more than taking maybe somebody who’s made a couple of bad decisions in life and barely getting through high school that’s going to graduate and not know where to go. He puts them on a path to make six figures, have a career, provide for themselves and change their lives. If I had to pick one to highlight, that would be him.
That’s a pretty good business to highlight and I saw the academy. It’s cool to learn more about what he’s doing with that. We need a lot of people in those trades fields to help service everybody. That’s pretty awesome to learn about. Dean, I appreciate you jumping on here and taking some time to spend with us. How can people learn more about the chamber or you?
Thank you for having me. Come out to the events. Check out our website, PalmHarborChamber.com. There are local events and an event calendar on there. I update that monthly. You can email me at Dean@PalmHarborChamber.com. We’re on Facebook, LinkedIn. Find a way to find me. Call Donnie and ask him.
Go check them out. Thanks.
- Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce
- The Go-Giver
- Upper Tampa Bay Chamber
- Tarpon Springs
- Safety Harbor
- Bay Area Young Professionals
- Maggie Mae’s
- Sunrise Irrigation
- Facebook – Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber
- LinkedIn – Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber