“In the Arena”

The Donald L. Tucker Civic Center is the largest indoor event space in Tallahassee. In its nearly 40-year history, the Civic Center has hosted basketball games, arena football, ice hockey, monster truck rallies, concerts, professional wrestling, Broadway shows, graduations, political debates and a myriad of local events put on by many of our great hometown organizations. It is hard to imagine just how many people have come through the turnstiles of the Civic Center in those years, but one thing is for sure – this arena is an important part of our community.

The Civic Center was named after longtime Florida lawmaker Donald L. Tucker a Tallahassee native, who served two terms as the Speaker of the House in the Florida Legislature. He was the last Speaker to do so. Tucker was instrumental in getting the Civic Center built and was an important leader in our community for many years. Tucker passed away last week after a lengthy illness, but the arena with his name stands as a testament to his many years of leadership and benefit he brought to our community.

This Tuesday morning, the Chamber hosted nearly 500 Tallahassee leaders in the arena for the Chamber’s Annual Breakfast Meeting. Tables were filled by business owners, company executives, non-profit directors, local officials and many others who support our organization. Company logos flashed upon the video boards and for a few hours, the applause typically reserved for sports teams and rock bands was aimed at the business leaders who have helped lead the Chamber and our community.

The Annual Breakfast Meeting tradition includes ceremonial changing of guard from one Board Chair to the next. This year, Mark O’Bryant of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, Inc. passed the gavel to Beth Corum of Capital City Bank. We also presented the Godfrey Smith Past Chair award to Todd Sperry of OliverSperry Renovation & Construction for his continued efforts to drive the Tallahassee community forward after previously serving the Chamber. Also, a new Ambassador of the Year award was presented to Tom Morgan of Florida State University for his excellent work to promote the Chamber and its business members.

As each one of those award recipients and Chamber leaders found a few minutes to address the audience, there was a great commonality on display. The comments shared by each were reflective of both a love for our community and a strong support of the Chamber. It is evident from the remarks heard on stage that they all believe that when our Chamber does well, the community does well.

The concept of growing and improving our community was also an important topic of the day. There was much talk of “livability” and how we might all find a way to combat the issues of poverty and crime that continue to plague the place we call home. There is certainly a business case to be made for improving the fortunes of our neighbors, but more importantly, the conversations at the Annual Breakfast Meeting were based on a real desire to see our community and our fellow citizens find opportunities to succeed. After hearing from new Chamber Chair Beth Corum, it was clear to see that these issues will continue to be a top priority for our organization.

Along with renewed calls for members to buy-in and re-engage, the keynote Speaker, FSU President John Thrasher, spoke about the university’s continued climb up the national collegiate academic rankings. President Thrasher pointed to the importance of the relationship between the university and the community and stressed how engaging in the Chamber helps to create a better environment for FSU’s long-term success. Thrasher went on to note that every business, citizen, organization, and individual has a role to play in making Tallahassee a better community.

This brings me back to the location of our meeting. As I stood with our team members watching the program from the back of the room, I couldn’t help but think of how the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center is the perfect place for our Annual Breakfast Meeting. For starters, on the week the building’s namesake passed away it was highly appropriate for various local leaders to stand tall and ask our members to find a way to make a difference. It made me think of the famous lines uttered by President Theodore Roosevelt where he derided the passive and critical voices on the sidelines of life and praised those who are “in the arena.” Our event was literally being held in the arena, but more importantly, our members are standing in the figurative arena every day.

With each speaker we heard from on Tuesday morning, this steady drumbeat of provocative comments from our Chamber leaders was heard by our audience and the call to action was as clear as it was sincere. If Tallahassee is to reach its fullest potential, then the Chamber must be pressing for change and driving results. That can only happen if our members are bought in, versed in the issues and engaged in finding solutions. As we continue to search for the best ways to improve the prospects of our community and to increase the prosperity of our fellow residents, we look to you to help guide us and choose the proper direction for which to lean in. As we march forward, I hope you will answer the call of our leaders and volunteers and join us in working to improve the community everyday– to speak directly, in order to achieve the mission, we must all to chose to be in the arena.

Jay Revell

Vice President