Chamber conference much more than a social event | Opinion

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Each year when the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual community conference, there are over 500 local leaders who come together to learn about the future of Tallahassee and Leon County. Among the many attendees are business owners, nonprofit executives, government officials and a variety of other parties with a strong interest in how our community grows.

Over these three days, those in attendance experience general sessions with world class speakers, breakouts dedicated to important issues in our hometown, and of course, networking across varied social gatherings. All this amounts to what I believe is one of the most important weekends of the year, and this year, as chair of the Chamber, I have come to appreciate it more than ever.

The impact of the annual community conference is huge. There are many new connections that occur during this gathering each summer, and every year there are stories of how conversations at the conference lead to new business, new opportunities and new friendships after we return home. This weekend goes beyond networking – it’s a time to learn.

There is no parallel in Tallahassee for learning about the future of our community. Especially considering the volume and variety of diverse attendees who are willing to commit their time for a whole weekend. As the catalyst for business growth in the Greater Tallahassee area, the conference is when all our hard work comes together.

Each year our conference sessions are carefully designed so that our members, guests and other attendees can discover new ideas, be informed of bold investments and understand projects and initiatives that are slated for Tallahassee in the coming years. That kind of knowledge can and often does propel important business decisions once we return home.

The economic impact of our annual conference is incredibly valuable for our community. Believe it or not, our staff has spent over $50,000 with local companies in preparing for this year’s event. Many sponsors and others in attendance also expend funds with local firms in preparation of promoting what they do at the conference.

The economic impact, however, goes beyond just dollars spent. The intellectual capital that changes hands during this weekend is staggering and that sharing of ideas leads to major changes and investments in our community. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and disregard our gathering as merely a social event or out-of-town junket, but those comments lack an understanding of what this weekend is all about.

In short, the conference is about our community and those who want to advance it. That is why I attend and I believe that is why record crowds make the trip to the conference each year.

What I love about the conference and those who attend is that no matter who I run into, there is an ever-present drive to move our community forward. The crowds assembled for the conference are comprised of folks who not only want to excel in business, but want our community to excel. The ballrooms and meeting halls that our Chamber fills during the conference are brimming with ambition and determination. Our conference is populated by people who have a thirst for success and a desire to do good for Tallahassee. That is something our community needs, perhaps now more than ever.

As chair of the Chamber, my charge to those at the annual conference and others who may read about it later is to consider how Tallahassee as a whole can excel. Ask what your role can be in building the best possible version of our community.

Despite our challenges, there is no reason Tallahassee cannot climb to new heights. The most important ingredient in our future is a well-informed, dedicated, hard-working and united citizenry. The Chamber’s annual community conference is where I find that in droves.