Chamber conference concludes with economic development theme

TaMaryn Waters, Democrat staff writer6:38 p.m. EDT August 17, 2015

More than 100 startup businesses are operating in Tallahassee.

As Sunday concluded this year’s getaway conference hosted by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, several startup owners explained their work in informative snapshot presentations. Many in the room say the morning was evidence of Tallahassee’s entrepreneurial momentum.

“We’ve really made an effort to get to where we are now,” said Jeffery Whalen, co-founder and president of SCPI or Specialized Crystal Processing Inc., a spin-out startup sprung out of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. It specializes in manufacturing crystals that appeal to businesses and scientists.

In addition, vice presidents for research at Florida State and Florida A&M revealed future plans to elevate innovations that could boost local economic development, from an app development challenge for FAMU students in the fall to FSU tapping into a flush reservoir of federal funding aimed at non-defense related research and development, particularly in advanced brain studies.

“The first ones in line are the ones who are going to do the best, and that’s what we’re going to do at FSU,” said Gary Ostrander, vice president of research at FSU.

When it comes to economic development, much conversation centered around what is the draw separating Tallahassee from other communities and speakers said it’s research, and strategic efforts are necessary to craft a winning game plan for attracting and retain companies.

While the three-day conference touched on a range of issues, there was no structured breakout session or mention of the city’s proposed 23-percent tax hike. This summer the proposal created mixed support from small businesses concerned how they’ll absorb a tax increase.

However, once the morning’s session ended, the group appeared eager to learn and do more to improve the overall business climate. Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh said people often leave surprised.

Murdaugh, chairman of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County, said these business professionals escaped the daily grind of doing business. They unwound in a relaxed setting immersed with no distractions, which allowed people to walk away with an “amazing appreciation about things they didn’t know anything about and the connections and synergies that flow from this.”

He’s hoping each person has identified that one contact they’ll follow up on.

“I’m one those who believes that rather than shoot for 100 percent improvement, you should shoot for one percent improvement by 100 people,” Murdaugh said. “If we come out of this and every person had a single new idea or a single new contact that they can follow up on that can improve their profitability, than this would be a huge success.”

A few takeaways from the 2015 Chamber of Commerce conference:

“Finally now in Tallahassee everyone can see that we truly do have an entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s alive and thriving,” — John Thomas “JT” Burnette, partner at Inkbridge LLC.

“My takeaway is that I didn’t realize how many startup businesses we have in Tallahassee. I’d like to learn more about that and help encourage and support those innovators,” — Karen Frost, director of sales at Capital Health Plan.

“I’m encouraged. I’ve been involved in Tallahassee through the science foundation and looking at new science coming out of FSU for about eight years. And it’s been frustrating because I would see the great science and nothing would happen with it; just sit on the shelf. That’s changed. That’s changed dramatically,” — Don Rosenkoetter, co-founder and CEO of Kyndermed.

“There are a lot of developments going on right now as far as the districts being expanded. The “What’s Next” breakout session was one of my favorite experiences here.” — Chantelle Yando, owner of Axios Salt Spa + Juice Bar