Yvonne McKeon from the Stradbally-based McKeon Stone is the new president of Laois Chamber Alliance, a new merger of the Laois Chamber of Commerce and Laois Tourism which was officially put in place at the AGM in historic syrrounds of Ballykilcavan Farm and Brewery near Stradbally on Wednesday evening.
Ms McKeon steps up from the role of vice-president and takes over from Alison Browne of Gerry Browne Jewellers who had been in the position for the past 12 months.
James McElwee from Rolleston-McElwee Solicitors is the new vice-president, and is set to take over as president this time next year.
Fiona Hyland from the Gandon Inn is the new treasurer, taking over Conor McGarry of Powerpoint Engineering who had been in the position since Laois Chamber was re-formed back in 2019.
Tom Clowry, a representative from Laois Tourism, is now secretary replacing Martin Crowley.
The AGM saw a new constitution of the two organisations voted in with existing directors Martin Crowley, Alison Browne, Conor McGarry and Ciaran Finane (Finline Furniture) stepping down after their three-year terms had come to an end.
Ashleigh Doyle from CJ Sheeran’s continues on the board while Tom Clowry, Fiona Hyland and Bernie Foran are the new additions from the Tourism side.
The AGM heard that a surplus of close to €21,000 was declared for the past 12 months, with the Chamber having three main sources of income: membership, events and financial support from Laois County Council.
Already this year the organisation held the second Laois Jobs Fair in the Midlands Park Hotel in April as well as the Shine festival in Emo Court in May.
Next week sees the third annual Golf Classic in the Heritage in Killenard while the first business awards are being held in The Heritage in October. In all 800 applications were received across 11 categories of the business awards with that to be whittled down to various shortlists before the winners are announced.
The merging of the two organisations will allow for a greater number of members – and a stronger voice as a lobbying group.
“We have had an excellent Board for the past year, who have achieved so much and brought us to this new chapter,” said Yvonne McKeon in her address to the meeting.
“We have an exciting time ahead with the new Laois Chamber Alliance now in place.
“The benefit of this collaboration will bring a new energy and strength to Laois business and to Laois Tourism. We now have the opportunity to be better together.”
The meeting heard considerable praise for Laois Chamber’s CEO Caroline Hofman, the youngest Chamber CEO in the country, while a new Tourism Development Lead is also being hired.
“This is a very hard working Chamber, always putting Laois front and centre of every agenda,” added outgoing president Alison Browne.
“Today is the start of another new phase in the history of Laois Tourism and Laois Chamber.
“The coming together of the two organisations means we are stronger together and can achieve so much more by working in unison.
“This is a very exciting development and one that will benefit both business and tourism for the county and our members.
“I would like to wish Yvonne McKeon the very best in her role as the new President.
“Business is in her blood and we are so fortunate in Laois that our long standing well know business people want to take an active role in the Chamber and give something back.”
“It has been a pleasure working closely with Alison over the past year in her role as President,” CEO of Laois Chamber, Caroline Hofman added.
“Returning to in-person events and face to face meetings, Laois Chamber has been part of some excellent events and initiatives with Alison leading the way throughout her presidency, including the Commercial Vacancy Incentive Scheme which was introduced earlier this year to tackle commercial vacancy and to encourage businesses to establish new premises.
“This collaboration with Laois Tourism marks a new chapter for the county, ensuring Laois is well and truly put on the map as a key domestic and international location to live, work, visit, and invest. This will benefit businesses across all sectors.
“I would like to thank our Directors who have stepped down at this AGM for their time as Board members, and for their commitment and hard work for the benefit of Laois and investment in the county.
“I look forward to working closely with Yvonne as newly elected President of Laois Chamber, and wish her the very best of luck in her new role.
“Yvonne has been terrific as Vice-President over the last year and will be a huge asset to the Chamber in her presidency over the coming year.”
After the meeting, host David Walsh-Kemmis, a former member of the board, gave a brief tour of the farm and brewery, as well as offering samples of the craft beer brewed on site.