Chamber study finds consolidation would boost economy

From the Tallahassee Democrat

A study commissioned by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce found merging Leon County and the city of Tallahassee could boost economic growth and lead to a more accessible and accountable local government.

The study, conducted by the Washington Economics Group and released Tuesday, examined the effects of consolidation in five cities: Jacksonville, Nashville, Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky, Indianapolis, Indiana and Athens, Georgia.

All five cities saw average employment and population growth that exceeded the national average over the past five years. Their average growth exceeded Tallahassee’s by nearly 4 percent. The report found consolidation could spur high levels of growth in employment, household income and gross domestic product.

Chamber officials hope the study will help revive interest in consolidation, a once hot-button issue that’s been on back burners for years. However, it’s unclear whether a groundswell of support exists to merge the two governments.

Voters rejected the proposal four times between the early 1970s and 1992 when it last appeared on ballots. But a survey conducted by Sachs Media Group last year, in the midst of a high-profile FBI investigation into public corruption, showed nearly two-thirds of voters expressed some support for consolidation. The survey was the impetus for the chamber study.

Sue Dick, president of the chamber, said the business group is committed to using observations and best practices in the report as a guideline for advancing community discussion on consolidation.

“Everyone who loves and cares about our community and its best future should welcome, not resist, a serious consideration of the potential lasting benefits of a governance change that could result in a better quality of life and more accountability of government to the governed,” she said in a news release.

Heidi Otway, chair of the chamber’s board of directors, said the study provides “an important ramp of opportunity” for boosting the local economy.

“In our community’s modern history, this study demonstrates that thoughtful, meaningful change could be the key catalyst to best propel us forward for the benefit of all,” she said. “We have so many positive community qualities, significant projects and committed individuals and organizations that could support a reasonable change that can make a great difference now and for the future.”

Mark O’Bryant, president and CEO of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, noted the Florida Chamber Foundation has forecast that Tallahassee and Leon County will need more than 9,000 new jobs by 2020 to keep pace with its growing economy.

“As a community searching for high impact economic growth, we have to truly consider a path that could lead us more successful outcomes,” he said.

The report found the five cities shared some of the same economic benefits after consolidating, including the mitigation of urban sprawl, fiscal efficiencies and improved business climates.

It also noted three best practices to fuel a successful consolidation drive: crafting a charter that meets economic development needs without losing political support from key constituents; showing the average voter that the current government structure can’t achieve an economic vision that’s key to their economic future; and restructuring government to effectively implement the proposed economic development vision and strategy.

The Washington Economics Group, based in Coral Gables, is led by Antonio Villiamil, a nationally recognized business economist who served as undersecretary for economic affairs under President George H.W. Bush and chairman of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors of Florida.

Contact Jeff Burlew at or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.