From the Tallahassee Democrat
Things will be different when the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference returns to Amelia Island this weekend.
Protocols prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be in effect and may evolve as cases linked to the Delta variant rage on statewide. As of Aug. 10, 475 attendees were registered — representing a drop from the record 532 expected three weeks ago.
Wounded by the pandemic, Tallahassee’s private sector and small businesses are eager to turn the corner and steer the capital toward a more vibrant economy with a workforce.
While business leaders may trumpet the sector’s resilience, this year’s conference will be more somber and spread apart.
Here’s five things to expect at the conference:
1. COVID-19 waiver Required
All attendees are required to sign a waiver acknowledging potential risk associated with COVID-19 and release the Chamber from any potential liability.
While the Chamber is implementing numerous preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the variant, the Chamber “cannot prevent you from becoming exposed to, contracting, or spreading COVID-19 (and all variants and mutations thereof, including, but not limited to the ‘Delta variant’) while attending Chamber activities and/or meetings.
“It is not 100% possible to prevent against the presence of the disease. Therefore, if you choose to attend Chamber activities and/or meetings you may be exposing yourself to COVID-19….”
2. Red, yellow and green wrist bands
Attendees will be offered colored wrist bands that are intended to communicate their comfort level while interacting and participating in the conference.
- Green – Handshakes and high fives are acceptable
- Yellow – Prefer a little space and might give you an elbow bump
- Red – Prefer to be as socially distanced as possible
3. Recorded and streamed sessions
Saturday sessions will be recorded for the first time this conference. The recordings will be available to chamber members and may ultimately be distributed more widely. This new feature allows attendees to get business intel on the topics of the day without crowding into popular workshop sessions. Some sessions will also be streamed to an overflow ballroom on closed circuit television.
This year’s sessions include
- A Community Commitment to Safety with State Attorney Jack Campbell, Sheriff Walt McNeil and Tallahassee Police Department Chief Lawrence Revell.
- Residential Real Estate: Local Buying Trends, Market Demographics, and Development
- Talent 2030: Becoming Florida’s Talent Capital
- Magnetic Momentum: Discover the Attraction
- Building Prosperity: Improving Economic Opportunity for All
4. Gone Gary, gone
Political consultant Gary Yordon won’t deliver his signature mix of jokes born from news makers and headlines. After 20 years of bringing humor and levity, he’s bowing out.
In a July email blast to conference attendees, Yordon cited being called to testify in the ongoing federal corruption trial of real estate developer John “J.T.” Burnette.
Yordon was a former employee of Scott Maddox’s Governance consulting firm and spent nearly an entire day testifying.
Federal prosecutors allege Burnette paid former City Commissioner Scott Maddox a $100,000 bribe in exchange for abstaining on a vote that killed a McKibbon hotel project, represented by Yordon.
Yordon acknowledged that Maddox directed him to represent McKibbon through his own company to deflect criticism from Erwin Jackson, a longtime City Hall observer and critic who publicly lambasted Maddox over his involvement with McKibbon.
McKibbon hired Yordon’s firm, the Zachary Group, for a $25,000 up-front fee plus monthly retainers of $3,000. Yordon testified the money went from his firm to Governance “immediately.”
“As you may have read, because of the time I spent with some of the principals eight years ago, I have been a witness in the ongoing federal trial,” Yordon said in his emailed statement to conference attendees. “While my time on the witness stand is over, the trial is not.”
The preparation for the trial and the conference was all consuming, he said.
“The collision of those two events at the same moment in my life has been significant,” he said. “I know we have had more laughs than I can count over the years, but I can’t imagine a time less suited for humor than this one.
“I shared my concerns with the Chamber and they were gracious in their understanding. I just needed a break.”
Chamber President Sue Dick will be handling the MC mic in Yordon’s absence.
The Keynote Speaker will be expert economic forecaster Dr. Marci Rossell, a former CNBC chief economist and Co-Host of SQUAWK BOX.
5. Swag bags are back
On the lighter side, every year participants get a swag bag crammed with items from local businesses. In previous years, it’s been a point of friendly competition to see whose item gets the most buzz.
This year, Aegis CEO Blake Dowling is gifting everyone with his debut book, “Introducing Professionally Distanced: All Access Stories from a Florida Business During the 2020 Pandemic.” It features some of his columns that have been published in the Tallahassee Democrat and will be included in all swag bags.
The rest of the items are a mystery.