Chamber of Commerce Hires New CEO

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 23, 2009 - 08:50:00 AM

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has selected Mark Berson of Alabama as the chamber’s new CEO. In a statement released Dec. 16, the chamber announced that Berson “would lead the organization through a new era of growth and expansion.” 

A resident of Mobile, Ala., Berson has worked in state government and headed a family business as well as a regional chamber of commerce. 

Berson was selected from a pool of 100 applicants and is expected to be in Berkeley by the end of the year. 

The Chamber of Commerce has had a difficult time filling the CEO position. The chamber was left without a CEO when Jean Paul Mommone, who was scheduled to take over from interim CEO Kevin Allen, resigned before starting work in September. 

Allen was filling the position after the chamber abruptly removed the previous CEO, Ted Garrett, in March.  

Berson has served as the president and CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce in Gulf Shores, Ala., for six years before resigning last summer.  

Berson expanded the chamber’s membership from 730 to more than 1,000 in a “mostly tourism-focused economy,” known for its golf courses and resorts, the statement said. 

According to the Berkeley chamber, Berson also served as the executive director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel in Montgomery, helping to attract visitors from all over the country and abroad, which reportedly boosted the state’s economy. 

Berson was in the news in 2001 for approving $25,000 in state funds for state senators and their families and two lobbyists from the Aviation Council of Alabama to travel to Paris, which generated some controversy. 

In an interview with the Birmingham News, Berson said he wouldn’t have approved the money if he had been aware it was going toward the Paris trip. 

“And I probably would have tried to talk them out of it,” Berson said. He also told the newspaper that in the future his department would give grants directly to the “officials responsible for receiving them, not to a legislator or lobbyist, so they won’t be able to carry them around.... Everything that anybody asks me for, I’m going to get a lot more background on.” 

Berson also helped produce the Annual National Shrimp Festival in Alabama, which draws 300,000 people and brings in a net profit of $240,000 for the state. 

Berson was president and owner of Raphael’s, a family-owned clothing store in Mobile, where he doubled sales to $3 million in just over two years, the chamber said. He has also worked in advertising in New York City. 

“Mark will bring a unique combination of civic experience and business leadership from his work in state government, as head of a regional chamber and in growing his family’s business,” said Jonathan DeYoe, president of the Berkeley chamber in a statement. “From our conversations with references, including the former Democratic governor of Alabama, we found that Mark was an inspiring leader and creative marketer. We believe he will bring a collaborative approach to growing business, building chamber membership and in understanding the needs of the local community.” 

 Berson in a statement described his role as offering “enormous potential to build value for chamber members and the local Berkeley community. 

“Small and large businesses, along with the university, bring an amazing diversity of assets to this wonderful city. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work here.”