By TAYLOR HARTZ
The “Suddington” sign hangs like a good-natured joke on the conference room wall at the Chamber of Commerce. His love for the town was embraced and ridiculed during a recent chamber Roast of their outgoing president and CEO.
For more than a decade, Art Secondo has been the face of Southington’s growing business community. Sometimes funny, sometimes controversial, but always colorful and hard-working, Secondo has been a fixture at ribbon-cuttings and local events.
Now, after 12 years of serving as president and CEO of the local chamber, the man affectionately called “Mr. Southington” will soon be stepping down.
Chamber Vice President Dave Pestillo said that Art’s love for the town was always evident, and that will be hard to replace as the chamber begins the search for Secondo’s replacement.
“Art absolutely loves Southington. He eats Southington. He breathes it. He really loves this town,” said Pestillo, who thinks Secondo’s town pride really helped the chamber grow in size and visibility– a goal Secondo had right from the start.
Secondo, a life-long Southington resident, served his community as a restaurant manager, sports bar owner, radio commentator, and newspaper editor, before accepting the title of Chamber of Commerce President and CEO in October 2003.
The 10-year Town Council veteran and author of community column “Second Look,” has voiced his opinion on Southington’s traditions, politics, and town pride for since the 1960s.
Following his membership in the Chamber as owner of the Hall of Fame Lounge and Marketing Director at Chancellor Gardens Assisted Living, Secondo took on the leadership role as a way to impact cooperation and commerce between businesses in his community.
Influenced both by his work as a business owner and member of the media, he grew membership in the Chamber by 241 members over his 12 years in the office, finishing with a record 535 members.
As president, Secondo said his priority was to improve the image of the Chamber, bringing a positive perspective to Southington’s “blue-collar” profile and “old-fashioned style of doing things.”
A community without a Chamber is similar to a train without an engine,” said Secondo, who thinks passion has been the fuel for his success. “I’ve been fortunate to be driven with a passion for my work, especially at the Chamber where clients could see and feel my love for the town.”
During his tenure, Secondo said he worked to showcase the advantages offered to members of the chamber, reduce events that drew little town interest, and market a new brand for the chamber with a series of engaging and beneficial community events.
During his presidency, the Chamber was involved with the annual Pizza Fest, Wing Fest, Italian Festival and Apple Harvest, drawing hundreds of residents to festivals to enjoy local food and vendors.
Events such as Chamber In The Morning, the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner and yearly downtown walk-thru allowed the Chamber to communicate concerns and ideas to town officials, while the annual Golf Tournament, speaking engagements and mall discount cards offered members an opportunity to network and promote their businesses.
The growth of the Chamber under Secondo’s presidency has helped promote business in town with a known presence of the chamber, said Chairman Paul Armor.
Crediting Secondo’s creation of the annual downtown walk-thru with strong relations between the Chamber and Town Council, Armor said the event has helped chamber leaders and town officials work together to “help the town be more business friendly and attract more customers and clients to the businesses that are in town.”
Pestillo said Secondo’s good reputation and many contacts town-wide helped increase the chamber’s size and therefore its impact on the community.
Though the vice president only worked under Secondo for three of his 12 years, Pestillo said that the chamber will reflect on his presidency fondly, and work to continue the progress Secondo achieved.
“Looking back it was a great ride,” said Pestillo, “and we’re really looking forward to moving ahead.”
In addition to continuing to grow membership and stay active in the community, Pestillo said the chamber will move forward with initiatives supported by Secondo. They plan to continue his support for building a new website and encouraging an electronic presence of the chamber, a process started by the board three months ago with Secondo’s backing.
While Armor felt that things will change as they begin the search for new leadership, the overall mission of the chamber to promote business in Southington will only move forward with the progress, dedicated membership and visibility built and maintained by Secondo.
Honored at this year’s annual dinner, Secondo asked Chamber members, community leaders and Southington residents not to mourn his resignation, because he has promised not to go anywhere.
“My goal is to continue to stay active in Southington, continue to preach of its amenities, and to do as much as I can to continue to have the town remain a wonderful place to live for,” said Secondo.