Chamber conference theme focuses on ‘pushing forward’

From the Tallahassee Democrat

News of a federal investigation into public corruption in the capital city was fresh at last year’s Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference, with some of the same prominent developers and business-people appearing on the guest list and on a grand jury subpoena list.

This year most of those names are absent from the registration rolls. And while the investigation plods on, business leaders are hoping to not let it distract from the positive economic news and vision they want to share.

“It’s about pushing forward,” said Chamber Board of Directors Chairwoman Heidi Otway. “Everybody wants to push past that and talk about the good opportunities. Let’s look at the positive things in our community.”

More than 500 attendees are registered for the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. According to Chamber officials, the conference serves as the largest annual gathering of business interests in Tallahassee.

It’s a Who’s Who of Tallahassee’s private and public sectors.

The event spotlights national, state and local economic trends, but the primary focus will be ongoing changes in Tallahassee. The capital city is experiencing a spike in development activity. There are 130 major projects proposed, under review or being built.

“We know Tallahassee is growing,” Otway said. “We have to make sure that we are growing in the right way that benefits everyone and not just a few.”

The weekend also is intended to steer conversations toward defining Tallahassee’s brand. Last year, a delegation of business and elected officials traveled to Nashville to learn how Tennessee’s capital city burnished its brand and tackled the sometimes complicated results of growth.

“Defining who we are as a community, we are starting to see what we can be,” Otway said. “We need to keep having that conversation as a community. We want people to choose Tallahassee, but we need to define what that means.”

The conference is a whirlwind of workshops, speakers and recreation, including the Water Buffalo Pool Party and golf tournament. Attendees also learn about upcoming developments and infrastructure projects.

Breakout sessions are designed to spotlight topical issues such as south-side development and opportunities, the residential housing shortage, the 2018 elections and emerging new leadership, workforce gaps and tourism trends.

Sue Dick, the chamber’s president and CEO, said she has witnessed how businesses are engaged and leading efforts to build a better community.

“Our conference is always an opportunity to double those efforts and set the tone for the year ahead,” Dick said. “Based on the tone at the Chamber Board meeting and the agenda laid out for the days ahead, it is very clear the Chamber means business this weekend and, in the year, ahead.”

Contact TaMaryn Waters at or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.