Salt Pond resident Phil Fleming has taken the reins at the local Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce during one of the more tumultuous periods in the chamber’s 25-year history.
Fleming has accepted the presidency of a chamber wrestling with socioeconomic concerns in light of the area’s population explosion.
“First and foremost, the chamber is an advocate for business issues in the community,” he stated.
However, Fleming recognized the blurred line between business and social interests.
For instance, summer traffic jams may frustrate motorists, but they also deter both locals and visitors trying to take a left turn into area businesses.
“We’ve sent a letter to both the towns and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) suggesting they continue onward with the roadway configuration we have between Bethany Beach and the (Assawoman) Canal,” Fleming pointed out.
That stretch sports not only center turnout lanes, but also bike lanes and sidewalks.
West of the canal, the sidewalks have been invaded by weeds and heaved by frost, and shoppers wishing to avoid traffic on Route 26 have few options.
The shortage of employee housing for seasonal workers becomes more of an issue every year, and Fleming noted the complexity of the issue.
“We get input from multiple areas, including the county, and I think there are definitely signs that it’s starting to be addressed,” he said. “Our communities all rely on these workers — police officers, teachers, firefighters and paramedics, not just the people who operate and staff our businesses.
“We have to find a way to ensure that these people have an opportunity to be in proximity to the areas where they work,” Fleming pointed out.
While affordable housing will likely remain a hot topic for all eternity, he said many local businesses had taken the initiative, recruiting and housing employees to solve their immediate needs.
“The good news is, this isn’t such a large state, geographically, that these problems become unsolvable, but it is a very real issue, and it deserves our collective attention,” he concluded.
Originally from the Midwest, Fleming moved to York, Pa. in the late 1960s. He met his future wife, Andi, in junior high school.
They’ve been married for 40 years and have two sons.
Fleming spent his career in the banking industry first as a loan officer and then as branch manager. He eventually moved into the advertising, marketing and public relations arm of the business, and spent 25 years in that field.
He was transferred from Pennsylvania to Baltimore along the way.
He moved to the Bethany area in 1996, but continued to work in Baltimore for another year or so.
He’d survived several mergers over the course of his career, but nearing 60 years of age, Fleming said he’d seen the writing on the wall.
“I’ve been in the business a long time, and I’ve had some friends who worked through mergers, some who lost their jobs,” he pointed out. “It’s just part of the phenomenon — that happens.
“I suspected it was a possibility,” he continued. “When I went through job elimination, I needed something to do, and I had friends in real estate, so I decided to pursue that.”
He earned his license in 1998, and is currently an agent with Long & Foster.
“I thought real estate would be an industry where I’d get to meet lots of people, and it has been fun,” Fleming said.
In addition to his duties with the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, he is serving a stint as president of the Sussex County Association of Realtors.
“Fortunately, as we have at the chamber, there’s an executive director and staff that take care of and administer the day-to-day things,” Fleming noted. “That really enables me to have a life.”
He still finds time to get involved with chamber-specific issues, though.
Fleming said the chamber would continue to seek relief on worker’s compensation rates and make sure the state continued to reinvest the accommodations tax money near the hotels and motels where it was collected.
Additionally, he serves on the board of directors for Delaware First Healthy Choices, a non-profit organization trying to find creative health care solutions for the membership.
First Healthy Choices has commissioned an actuarial study, gathering figures they will be able to pitch to prospective insurers — the non-profit will take a strictly administrative role.
President Jim Rasa and his associates plan to create a system that integrates free screenings and incentives for self-management of medical conditions and preventive maintenance.
Everyone would have the same deductible, but people get with the program would see reduced rates.
Fleming said he was hopeful, and anxious for the First Healthy Choices program to proceed.
The long-awaited and somewhat overdue expansion at the Visitors Center has provided a few temporary disruptions, but Fleming has inherited a healthy fund-raising effort.
The chamber has raised nearly half of the money (including donated materials and services) they will need to complete the project, while still supporting their own Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation (scholarships for locals).
Fleming and the rest of the chamber staff will be trying to raise the other $100,000 or so by May, while juggling all of the other issues.
Change may be the order of the day at the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, but Fleming seemed relatively unfazed.
“For better or worse, the evolution of things, and these processes that we go through — it’s natural, after all,” he said. “Everything changes.”