The clamor of business leaders filling the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting would be expected instead of the cavernous quiet at this year’s event.
Only speakers and a handful of staffers and executive committee members met in person at the Civic Center this week as more than 300 registered attendees tuned into the virtual event — typically met by 500 attendees under normal conditions.
No more than four people were seated at the mostly unmasked but socially distant gathering. Attendees arrived with masks on and were permitted to remove them once seated. No food was served.
The scaled-back event was a stark comparison to previous meetings and a visual reminder of how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the business community.
Chamber President and CEO Sue Dick said the pandemic and vaccines are foremost as companies attempt to refine their business model in the new normal.
“What we’re hearing from businesses is that while that’s there, they also know how important it is to continue to push forward for 2021 for the benefit of the community, the economy and everyone who needs to be employed,” Dick said.
Workforce gaps, for example, were already a Chamber priority that’s been exasperated by the pandemic.
Leon County’s unemployment rate of 5.6% in November — an uptick from October’s 5% rate and twice the 2.7% rate in November 2019 — reveals the uphill battle that prompted the Chamber’s launch of the Talent Hub. It’s an online platform to match job seekers with employers.
Outgoing Board Chairwoman Beth Corum talked about how the Chamber prepared for a successful 2020 but was rocked by the pandemic.
“None of us could have anticipated the struggles we would face due to the upheaval of a global pandemic,” Corum said. “Canceled meetings, light traffic, dramatically fewer diners and restaurants and hotel guests. The mental toll of trying to survive the unknown, employee layoffs, revenue loss and business closings.”
Corum said the Chamber adjusted by offering services and resources for members, along with webinars.
“The Chamber continues to evolve to help members navigate the challenges ahead,” she said.
Incoming Board Chairman Jay Smith, vice president of Ajax Building Corp., said the Chamber will continue to wrap resources and attention on talent, workforce and education.
“Each of these goals are intertwined with one another,” Smith said. “I’m proud of the unique assets we have but also know we have a lot that needs to addressed. I am confident that by working together we will be successful.”
Board Chairman Jay Smith on 2021 goals:
- Create community scorecard with data from Florida Chamber Foundation and Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality.
- Engage community to focus on the livability of every citizen by launching Prosperity LEON.
- Advance and support ideas that bolster growth of existing businesses and attracts new industry.
- Build on talent retention effort with education and vocational partners, creating the “Talent Capital of Florida.”