Chamber workshops offer insight into hot topic issues

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Breakout sessions on day two of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference dumped buckets of information and insight on issues and challenges affecting the business sector.

Saturday’s workshops touched on talent retention and recruitment gaps, the airport’s attempt to boost flights and appeal to its 500-acre swath of land, housing, proposed public projects tagged for Blueprint funding and the school district’s role in filling the workforce supply. Several workshops were standing room only as attendees crammed inside to hear from industry experts.

Here are some of the insights shared:

Public projects:

Twenty-seven major public projects are poised for Blueprint funding between 2020 and 2040. They represent a $1.2 billion economic impact once completed.

“That doesn’t include the private sector investment that we demonstrated today that follows these projects,” said Cristina Paredes, deputy director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality. An example of a public project is the widening of Capital Circle Southwest and its connection to the Tallahassee International Airport.

Other projects include greenways, new bike routes and sidewalk connections. Officials say these projects will improve the overall quality of life and can be a recruitment tool for attracting and retaining talent.

“The foundation that we lay with your public dollars has a direct result of an increased economic vitality to our whole community,” Paredes said.

Residential housing market: 

The Tallahassee housing market is in transition with the rising interest and growth of non-student housing options. Examples include projects like Arbor Crossing at Buck Lake. Realtor Brian Sealey, owner of the Sealey Team, a realty firm, said these projects are filling a void in the housing market. “Opportunities exist to create our growing demand for affordable work force housing as well,” he said.

Homes priced at $450,000 and more are hard to sell in the current market.

There’s high interest in new construction homes, but lots are limited. Developers say there’s a significant need for infill, especially in high-desired areas like Midtown.

Developer Matt McHaffie, owner of GBGH Construction, talked about his 24-unit master planned community off Thomasville Road called UpperEast. He said three lots have been sold for the community that will be built on 12.52 acres on Lake Hall Road, where the former Tony’s Garden Patch, a once popular nursery, sold lawn garden items.

Leon County Schools and Skilled Workforce Development:

LCS Superintendent Rocky Hanna, a conference first-timer, was reluctant to come considering more than 33,000 students will start school on Monday. But he felt being at the conference was important, mainly so the district can better understand workforce needs and what programs should be implemented to meet them.

“We’re going to do a big overhaul, not just at Lively. I don’t want to have programs where there are no jobs,” Rocky said. “We want to make kids aware that there are opportunities. You’re not a failure if you don’t go to college. There are so many other ways for you to earn a good wage.”

Talent trends and challenges:

One issue employers encounter is motivated applicants who aren’t the right fit for the position.

Panelists said it’s not so much a question of how can we bring more people and potential employees to Tallahassee but how can we train up the right ones.

Employers are looking for two types of employees: high-skilled employees who can hit the ground running and require little training and less experienced candidates who can be groomed. The other challenge is grooming young talent and convincing them to stay in Tallahassee.

Airport opportunities:

CBRE, a private real estate consulting firm, is spearheading the Tallahassee airport’s marketing efforts for the 500 acres.

Silver Airways is under new management and announced a decision to increase its fleet size with new aircraft. In the past, they had a poor performance in the Tallahassee market, according to airport officials. The new fleet will allow them to provide more flights, particularly doubling service to Fort Lauderdale and increasing opportunities to reach other markets outside of Tallahassee that couldn’t be accessed before. Silver Airways has cut its prices for flights coming out of Tallahassee.

The airport is working with United Airlines and Skywest for service to Houston or Chicago. The Tallahassee airport used a $750,000 federal grant from the Department of Transportation to support that effort. “The conversation has been positive,” said Chris Curry, aviation director for the Tallahassee airport.

Efforts are still underway to reinstate direct flights to Washington, D.C.,. through American Airlines. Curry said this route would be a vital edge for local business leaders.

Contact TaMaryn Waters at or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.