CRESTVIEW — Joe Unit describes his job at the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce succinctly. "I'm speaking the gospel of the chamber," he said.

CRESTVIEW — Joe Unit's official title is Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce membership and program development director.

Unit describes his job a bit more succinctly.

"I'm speaking the gospel of the chamber," he said.

Unit has a new position at the north county's regional chamber of commerce. His primary focus is membership retention and recruitment, chamber Executive Director Wayne Harris said.

"He'll also be responsible for some of our programs and getting people involved and understanding what the chamber is all about," Harris said. "There's this misunderstanding that the chamber is some sort of government entity."

Among his goals, Unit said, is raising membership from its current status and getting as many businesses as possible involved with the chamber.

"And I want to become more involved with the community myself," Unit said.

Feedback from chamber membership has suggested some small business owners are not aware of or taking advantage of their memberships' benefits, Harris said.

"It's all about the return on investment," Harris said. "I liken it to joining a gym.

"If you pay $300 to join a gym and you never show up, are you getting your money's worth? It's the same thing. The chamber's got to be used. There are all kinds of things to take advantage of."

Three underused benefits

Harris and Unit cited three main, often underused benefits of chamber membership:

•Networking opportunities with other members

• Resources including training and educational seminars, assistance from Tom Hermanson from the University of West Florida Small Business Development Center, and business ribbon cutting events

•Contributing to a powerful regional business voice.

"Two things prompt legislatures: dollars and numbers of people," Harris said. "The bigger the organization is, the stronger your voice, and most small businesses don't have the resources to have their own lobbyists."

Unit will spearhead personal contacts with chamber members to see what other services the organization can provide.

"I'm a guy that if a business has a question, I want them to give me a call," he said. "I need the feedback to find out what they're looking for from the chamber."

In addition to working with members, Unit will be heavily involved in chamber events and programs, such as the Triple B festival, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Harris said he has big expectations for the role Unit will play in the chamber of commerce, knows he can rely on Unit, and  feels the duo are on the same wavelength.

After all, they're both Air Force veterans.

"We know how to work together," Harris said. "We know if one of us asks the other person to do something, you can take it to the bank."

Meet Joe Unit

Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Membership and Program Development Director

•20-year Air Force veteran

•Stationed at Eglin Air Force Base 1991-94

•Moved back to Crestview from Johnstown, Penn., where he was an Air Force recruiter for six years, and then worked as an automotive sales consultant

•Four children, including a son and granddaughter in Crestview