October is the start of a new fiscal and leadership year for the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, and I am honored and humbled to have served as Chamber Chairman for the past 12 months.
At the Annual Chamber Breakfast Meeting held at the Civic Center on Tuesday, I passed the reigns to incoming Chair Winston Howell and reminded the more than 400 attendees from throughout our region about the Chamber’s many accomplishments over the last year. Even in a tough economic year, the Chamber made significant progress in key areas thanks to the hard work of Chamber staff, led by Chamber President Sue Dick, and the organization’s many member volunteers who gave their time to make Tallahassee a better place to work and live.
Chamber staff and volunteers transformed the Professional Women’s Forum into the CEO Series, which saw attendance numbers return to pre-recession levels. Business after Hours events promoted the City of Tallahassee’s “Sense of Place” initiative and was hosted within key business district areas. In addition, the popular Business Nuts and Bolts program was revived, and the Leads Group program was formalized and reorganized. Also, the Small Business Excellence Awards were re-branded as The Chamber Awards, which expanded recognition to key industry sectors within the community and positioned the event to line up with National Small Business Month.
The Chamber launched a new branding campaign this year — “Our Business is Your Business” – and we partnered with the Choose Tallahassee initiative to show off all the reasons our region is a great place to retire.
The Chamber’s affiliate program, the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee-Leon County (EDC), under the leadership of Chair Karen Moore and EDC staff, has created an active project pipeline which includes a total potential capital investment of $235 million and as many as 5,508 new jobs; the largest pipeline of projects in the tenure of the EDC.
The Chamber was also active this year in advocating for a number of issues important to our business community. We provided input to the City of Tallahassee regarding proposed revisions to the sign ordinance, worked with Commissioner Andrew Gillum and city officials on the City of Tallahassee Utility Deposit Rebate program, and represented local businesses on the proposed “Moving Tallahassee – Cars Optional” program.
During the year, the Chamber attended more than 50 commission meetings, workshops and public hearings and represented local business interests on 12 community and state-based committees and councils.
The Chamber’s largest advocacy task this year was answering the call of Superintendent Jackie Pons to provide assistance in reviewing the proposed list of projects to be funded by the half penny sales tax extension on the ballot this November. A team of 59 volunteers conducted an independent review of the facilities and capital improvement needs of the school district. After more than 2,000 hours of work, the committee recommended $275 million in essential needs over the next 15 years from a project list of $1 billion.
The Chamber board received the report from the Capital Improvements Review Team (CIRT), chaired by Jim Murdaugh, and unanimously voted to endorse the extension of the half penny tax for our schools. Extending the tax will help ensure our region has a quality education system – an important quality-of-life issue for companies considering expansion or relocation to our community.
Much was accomplished in 2011-2012, and we are looking forward to another impactful year under Winston Howell’s leadership. If you are not currently a Chamber member, I encourage you to join the Chamber to ensure an ever brighter future for our community. For information on Chamber membership and our many programs, events and networking opportunities, visit chamber.clientwebstage.com.