Feb. 13, 2007 — Omer ErSelcuk is preparing to lead the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce back into being the formidable organization it was before an accounting scandal threatened to sink it into oblivion.
ErSelcuk, who is president and CEO of Seaborne Airlines, was elected as chairman of the board last month at the chamber's annual meeting. The organization has adopted that new title in place of the long-used "board president." As chairman, ErSelcuk will work closely with Michael Dembeck, the chamber's executive director, and other members to jumpstart both the economy and the organization.
"It's very exciting," he said recently of his new post, "but obviously with that excitement comes responsibility, so I feel a healthy level of pressure to make everybody proud of the work we need to accomplish as a chamber ."
ErSelcuk, who has worked for nearly seven years at Seaborne, first as its marketing director, welcomes the challenge to lead the chamber and said he will be as good a leader as the board members around him.
"Anybody will tell you it's not so much the leader that makes things happens but who he or she has to work with."
ErSelcuk acknowledged that in order to lead, the chamber has had to work from within after a widely reported scandal last year involving the mismanagement of thousands of dollars. Members are working on coming up with an operation plan and objectives that will require accountability for all.
"We have all agreed that we can only move forward. And with an organizational structure in place that we all agree on, we should be a more effective organization," he said.
ErSelcuk predicts the chamber will succeed.
"We have to be effective — either creating change or being a part of the change and making St. Croix a better home for all of us," he said. "We all have to work for a living, and we depend on government to insure that our infrastructure is sound, so that when we earn our income, we have a nice place to spend it in."
ErSelcuk believes that teamwork is essential in effecting change and this is what he will be pushing when members meet quarterly. He said he envisions a business community that works hand in hand with government and civic leaders to bring about change for St. Croix.
"It doesn't make any sense for all of us to work separately and be divisive instead of working together," he said. "I hope to work with our new government — both the executive and legislative branch and the Hotel and Tourism Association. If I do nothing else, I want to effect the changes that will create a better home for all of us because if we can create a home we all like, you can be sure our visitors will like it."
ErSelcuk has a word for this concept: self-tourism.
"We have to be proud of our island. St. Croix is blessed with the most diverse culture and if it's good for us, it will be good for our visitors," he said. "We have just about everything under the sun because our melting pot of diversity is our strength, as is our diverse industry.
"One of the signs that you can see things are beginning to happen is Carambola being under the Renaissance flag," he said, adding that any company looking to invest will take note that Renaissance, a company with a "high net worth" is willing to take a chance on the island, and so they can too. "I think the Renaissance flagship is going to get things moving in the right direction," he said.
Like many in the community, ErSelcuk would like to see more hotel rooms on St. Croix. However, he said, there must be support for businesses and people who are already here.
"We have to support new hotels and additional rooms, but we also have to recognize hoteliers like the Armstrongs (Buccaneer), Carambola and Divi. They've been here through thick and thin and because of them we have a base," he said, adding that the Virgin Islands must also work to retain its best and brightest.
"With all that we do, we must also find a way to keep the brain power that is here," he said. "We have folks who come to visit and they really want to stay here, but they leave because the job opportunities are not here."
ErSelcuk said that the chamber will continue its series of after-hours activities, including one called "Meet Your Senators," in which senators can meet and greet business owners and residents at informal get-togethers. Other government officials, including Gov. John deJongh Jr., Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis and St. Croix Administrator Pedro Encarnacion will be among a planned list of guests that ErSelcuk hopes will attend meetings and speak to board members.
ErSelcuk said he also hopes to work closely with Patrick Henry, who heads the Hotel and Tourism Association, and invite him to regularly join chamber board meetings because he said, "we have to stay tight with each other to effect positive change."
He also is looking forward to working with Tourism Commissioner-designate Beverly Nicholson Doty.
"She is going to be one of the best things that have happened to the Virgin Islands," ErSelcuk said. "She is perhaps one of the most professional, competent individuals I've ever worked with."
And ErSelcuk said, when his time is up, he hopes to leave the chamber a better organization.
"I hope the legacy I leave with this chamber, will be getting the components of government, tourism and commerce to work together to make St. Croix better," he said.
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