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Chamber President Donna Palermo to Retire

Chamber President Retiring After Twenty-six Years of Service
Donna Palermo, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce has announced that she is retiring May 1st after serving twenty-six years with the organization, the last thirteen as President.

 Palermo was hired at the Chamber in June of 1988 as the organization’s executive secretary and moved up the ranks of the organization to Administrative Assistant, Vice President of Operations, Interim President in October of 2000 and President in May of 2001. 

During her years at the Chamber, Palermo was recognized by the Secretary of Transportation for her efforts in the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful cleanup effort with PennDOT.  In 2,000 she received the Pennsylvania Environmental Award from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council for her efforts as well coordinating over 2,000 volunteers in the Greater Hazleton area in the cleanup effort.

 In 2002, Palermo was named one of the Top 25 Women in Business by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Journal.  In 1996, Palermo was listed on the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Honor Roll of Women. In addition, she has received the Seven Seals Award from the PA National Guard for her support of our armed services; the United Way Volunteer Award; Hazleton Lions Club Lion of the Year Award; Hazleton Lions Club Proud Lion Award; Hazleton Lions Club International President’s Appreciation Aware; Dale Carnegie Achievement Award; PEARL Award from the Hazleton YWCA; Keystone Job Corps Center Community Supporter of the Year Award (2009 & 2013).  In 2013, she received the Maternal and Family Health Services Rose Tucker Award.

Palermo’s involvement in the community is extensive, serving on the following boards:  President of the Northeastern Chamber of Commerce Services Organization as well as serving on the board in Wexford; Greater Hazleton Health Alliance (now Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton); Chair of the Luzerne County Convention & Visitors Bureau; Leadership Hazleton, Chair of the Greater Hazleton Area Civic Partnership; secretary of the Mountain Council of Governments; Leadership Hazleton; Greater Hazleton Partners in Education; Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance; Cranberry Creek Gateway Park; CAN DO, Wiltsie Center at the Historic Castle, and the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress; Advisory board member of Luzerne County Community College; Keystone Job Corps Center; McCann School of Business & Industry; Lackawanna/Luzerne County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and CAN BE.  Palermo is also a past board member of the Hazleton Rotary Club, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters and the Great Valley Technology Alliance.

Palermo had the opportunity to serve under many past chairs of the Chamber board including Anthony Persico, Arthur D. Sweeney, Rocco Colangelo, Joe Yannuzzi, Anthony Cusatis, Jeff Fierro, Richard Moore, Earl Berger, Bill Spear Jr., Gary Danish, Atty. George Hludzik, Lew Dryfoos, III and Atty. Elizabeth Maguschak, the first female chairperson of the board.  According to Ms. Palermo, “Working with so many people dedicated to moving the Chamber and community forward, was the most enjoyable part of my job.  To meet and work with people so committed and dedicated to the organization and community was an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.”  Palermo continues, “I had the ability throughout my career at the Chamber to meet so many people; many of whom have become very good friends and to work every day with a staff of the most dedicated people I know.  It has truly been a blessing serving this organization and I wish them nothing but the best as they continue to serve our members and our community.”

 Some of the highlights of Palermo’s career with the Chamber included her relationship with Chambers of Commerce Service Organization, better known to Chamber members as ChamberChoice.  Palermo spearheaded an effort in 2000 to bring back a health insurance program for the Chamber.  Through her efforts, which included working with Rosemary Dessoye of the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, the late Jeff Rubel of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, and Connie Pheif who was with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross of NE PA, a health insurance program was once again offered to our Chamber memberships.  The program grew to include seventeen Northeast PA Chambers of which Palermo served as President until present time.  Through this terrific relationship with ChamberChoice and the other Chambers, an energy program was initiated through OnDemand Energy whereby Chamber members were able, and continue to, save thousands of dollars on their electricity costs.  The program also recently included a program not only for Chamber member businesses, but a residential program for the entire community served by PPL customers.

In addition, through Palermo’s leadership and her involvement on transportation issues, Route 924 in Humboldt was expanded from a two-lane road to a five-lane road; she was the communicator to businesses and the community during the Broad Street Corridor Project, holding several meetings with PennDOT and the construction managers in the Chamber office and by providing updates via email on a continuous basis. She has been the “go to” person regarding the Airport Beltway project and has coordinated public meetings for businesses and residents concerning the project.  The Chamber’s Transportation committee is responsible for making sure that local road projects are placed on the Transportation Priority List and Palermo serves on the Transportation Advisory committee with PennDot.  The Chamber continues to provide testimony and input to expand Route 424 into the Humboldt Industrial Park and at a recent transportation meeting, was told that the project is proceeding.  Most recently, the Chamber supported the passing of the State Transportation Bill which will assist in addressing the many bridge and road deficiencies if the State.

In 2007, under Palermo’s leadership and then board chair Gary Danish that the Chamber moved into new headquarters at Citiscape.  The move allowed for the continued growth of the Chamber and to provide better access to its membership and community at-large. .It was the first time in the Chamber’s history that the organization occupied their own office space. 
It was through Palermo’s leadership that the Chamber worked closely with Eckley Miners’ Village to stop a potential closing of the facility.  In 2009, Palermo led a petition to stop the PA Historical and Museum Commission from closing Eckely. Thousands of signatures were presented to then State Rep. Todd Eachus to deliver personally to the Commission.  Thankfully, the efforts were favorable and Eckely was not closed. The Chamber was instrumental in the building of the Nescopeck State Park Environmental Center, working closely with Sen. Musto to acquire funding to build the facility. The Hazleton area hosted the Great Race in 2011 with the coordination through the Chamber; trips to Ireland, Italy and China were coordinated through the Chamber; the Chamber hosted an Italian Delegation in 2006 through the cooperation of Molly Blasko and Sister Cities and a “Thank You Veteran Program” was coordinated with the Veterans Hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

Palermo worked very closely with Chamber committee chairs including Bill Spear of the Chamber’s Downtown committee and the Center for Landscape Design and Stewardship in an effort to initiate a Farmers’ Market for Downtown Hazleton. In addition, new trash receptacles, Christmas Decorations and banners were placed throughout Downtown.  Events also included a Downtown Car Cruise, Welcome Santa and Mrs. Claus event, Holiday Mixer and a Holiday Promotion.  This year, through Palermo’s leadership, a Downtown Holiday Window Painting project took place with students from MMI, Hazleton Area, and Immanuel Christian School.  A new “Hometown Heroes Banner Project” has begun to honor men and women from throughout Greater Hazleton who served or continue to serve in our military. The committee worked and provided financial support to prepare a Downtown Hazleton Overlay District Ordinance which was passed by City Council in 2011 in an effort to help revitalize the Downtown. Efforts are ongoing with the formation of a new non-profit organization, the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress of which Palermo is the secretary. She was responsible in forming a Women’s Networking committee in 2004 in cooperation with the Hazleton YWCA and Leadership Hazleton.  She was a founding member of Circle 200, a regional women networking group that currently consists of 100 members from throughout the NE Region. Through the formation by Palermo of the Community Awareness committee and Chairman Allen Wagner and board member Gary Danish, a Community Awareness DVD was produced to highlight the many amenities of living, working, worshipping and playing in the Greater Hazleton area.  Because of the success of the first video, 2 additional videos were produced. The committee holds a “Tastes of Greater Hazleton” in October to highlight the many fine restaurant and catering facilities we have in the area. A road and street map and Image publication is produced highlighting the area, and just recently a “Greater Hazleton-opoly” game were produced to highlight the many fine businesses in the Greater Hazleton area.  In addition, comprehensive Newcomer Packets are provided to new industries or individuals who are planning to move to Greater Hazleton.

Funfest is one of the longest running committees of the Chamber and in 2012, the Chamber, Funfest Director Judiann McGrogan, Julie Ferry and the all-volunteer committee was able to work very closely with the City of Hazleton to streamline activities and costs related to both Funfest and the City.  Funfest is very proud to be able to use the venue to assist non-profit organizations with much-needed fundraising dollars and to be able to recognize and salute our military, police, veterans, fire departments, EMS and others during our exciting parade.  Last year, Joe Scarcella was recognized by Funfest as the only remaining original member of the committee serving 30 years as a volunteer.

Palermo was most notably noted for her efforts, along with then board chairman, Lew Dryfoos, III, in fighting to have MinSec closed in Downtown Hazleton.  Through efforts that included working with State Rep. Tarah Toohil, Sen. John Yudichak, Congressman Lou Barletta and Governor Corbett’s administration, MinSec lost all State contracts and was forced to close in 2013.  Palermo was threatened with legal action for her efforts to close the facility but the board of directors fully supported her efforts and fought a long, hard battle to close the facility due to the many incidents that occurred from residents who lived in the facility.  The Chamber is most proud to have positive working relationships with all of our elected officials which allow us to move forward projects of the utmost concern for the Greater Hazleton area.
Chairman Liz Maguschak states, “Donna’s commitment to the Chamber and to the entire Greater Hazleton community is to be commended.  As we all know, her position as president was not an everyday 9-5 job. Donna is at every function of the Chamber day and night, and at all of the board and committee meetings that she is involved with in our local community and regionally.”  Maguschak continues, “Donna built this Chamber up to be one of the very best Chamber’s in the state and we wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors.  She has given us her complete assurance in assisting us in finding the next leader for the organization and will help us through this transition.  One of the best skills that Donna possessed is that she was able to put together a great team at the office and we will continue to serve our membership and the community to the highest standard.”

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