Is Tallahassee better after Boulder?

Two years ago, a delegation of Tallahassee movers and shakers traveled to Boulder, Colorado. Monday through Wednesday, an even larger group is headed to Nashville, Tennessee. 

These recon trips happen every few years. The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce acts as the ultimate tour guide. Trip-goers soak up the sights in a daylong itinerary of stops, swap ideas over dinner and drinks and, hopefully, return home inspired to grow Tallahassee’s economy.

We asked local professionals who represent big and small businesses and the chamber. Each gave a grade on three categories and an overall grade for Tallahassee’s business economy following the Boulder trip.

Here’s what we asked: Startup/entrepreneurship

Startup/entrepreneurship – What’s different about the Tallahassee startup environment now compared to two years ago? Is it vigorous? Is it sluggish? What is Tallahassee doing right or wrong in this area?

Branding assets – What makes Tallahassee special and are we as a community doing a good job of getting our story out? If yes, why? If no, why?

Business culture – What’s the business climate in Tallahassee now compared to two years ago and what did we learn from Boulder’s business climate/mindset?

Here’s what they said:

DeVoe Moore, Tallahassee businessman and owner of the Tallahassee Automobile Museum.

Startups/Entrepreneurship — Grade: B+
Domi Station has been joined with the Tallahassee Community College Center for Innovation and a huge upgrade in the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship. These are well-intended programs that will likely benefit many individuals. I wonder how many of these individuals will remain in Tallahassee and add to the vitality of the city. Or will they take their training and move on to other locations? With growth perhaps, some of the business ventures created will lead to more higher paying jobs, but I believe that is yet to be proven in Tallahassee.
Branding assets — Grade: C
Tallahassee is a great place to live with wonderful resources, a great climate and a lower cost of living. With all of these great features, why have we not been able to attract companies to relocate here as they have in many other Florida locations?  Is it the brand marketing or lack of it?  Perhaps our brand is known for being unfriendly to business with taxes and fees, causing companies to locate elsewhere.
Business culture — Grade: D
If anything, the business culture has deteriorated in the last two years. Special interest groups have infiltrated and caused the demise of the Economic Development Council. The new Office of Economic Vitality has some of the same members that survived the demise, and it’s too early to tell if they are effective. When political engineering allows certain individuals to benefit, that causes slow growth; but growth that suits the few are the ones who benefits the most.
Tallahassee’s overall economy grade:  Grade C
We can do far better with leadership that is willing to step out of the influence of the few.

Ed Murray, commercial real estate expert and partner at NAI Talcor

Startups/Entrepreneurship — Grade: A
A couple of years ago you never heard of the term incubator. You’re hearing startups constantly. Then you have the large commitment from the Jim Moran Foundation. That’s huge. We were talking about it (startups), but it has really picked up steam in the last two years.
Branding assets — Grade: A
I believe we are doing a good job, but we can always do better. Everyone can do better. We need to brand Tallahassee, Leon County and the universities. These need to be top of mind but we are doing good.
Business culture — Grade: A
I’ve been in the commercial real estate business since 1983. I believe the business climate is better now than it’s ever been. I think all forms of government are working together to help the private business climate. I believe consumer and business confidence is at an all-time high. Continued low-interest rates certainly help, too. Positive momentum breeds positive momentum.
Tallahassee’s overall economy grade:  Grade A

Heidi Otway, vice president and partner at SalterMitchellPR and chair-elect for the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

Startups/Entrepreneurship — Grade: B-
Tallahassee’s startup community is demonstrating viability in a city that has long been dominated by state government and the public sector.  In the last two years alone, Domi’s incubator and coworking space has established a footprint for entrepreneurs with the right mix of programs, partnerships and visibility. It’s exciting to see others follow Domi’s lead and create similar spaces to help foster a stronger business environment for start-ups.
Branding assets — Grade: C
I always brag that Tallahassee is small enough that a business can easily connect with the community, generate visibility, and access talent and resources at Florida A&M and Florida State universities and Tallahassee Community College. However, this is my story. What we need is a unified narrative that resonates with our community, businesses (both public and private sector) and the outside world. To do this right, there needs to be a collaborative effort to build Tallahassee’s brand. The discovery, development and rollout of our story can’t be done in silos.
Business culture — Grade: C+
Since the Boulder trip, the business climate has gotten better. I see more businesses, the universities, our local government, and organizations like the chamber and Domi, coming together to collaborate and foster a more vibrant business environment. I expect this trip to Nashville to yield more collaboration when we get back because we are intent on finding out how a similar community found its superpower. The agenda will help us learn how they did it, who was involved and how they are now harnessing it for the greater good. Before we leave, we’ll have a strategy session to help us start defining Tallahassee’s superpower and make sure we come back with a mindset to apply what we learn.
Tallahassee’s overall economy grade:  Grade B-
When all of our superpowers align, Tallahassee’s economy will be business and community strong.

Matt Thompson, managing partner at For the Table Hospitality, which includes Centrale, Township, Madison Social and Social Catering and Events.

Startups/Entrepreneurship — Grade: B
In the food and beverage arena, Tallahassee is constantly changing in certain areas of town while other areas seem to be “more of the same.” Outside of F&B, I believe Tallahassee still needs that “disruption” to an industry to start and grow here.
Branding assets — Grade: C
But this is getting better. I believe we lack in identity and want to be all things. We are still looking for that “all encompassing” statement of who we are that fits with where we want to go.
Business culture — Grade: B
Starting to see more collaboration between groups yet still believe we need to make certain areas of our town walkable and have people bounce around from business to business.
Tallahassee’s overall economy grade:B

Contact TaMaryn Waters at or follow @TaMaryn Waters on Twitter. 

Nashville Expedition Coverage:

Economic Development Reporter TaMaryn Waters will provide daily coverage of the chamber’s trip to Nashville, which includes a jam-packed agenda. Stops include Vanderbilt University, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Music City Center and HCA Capital View Complex. Officials say the trip is supposed to show them how other cities tackle economic development and growth and inspire initiatives that could work in Tallahassee.