Tallahassee Chamber vows to be more visible, vocal and to ‘cultivate candidates’ for 2022

From the Tallahassee Democrat

AMELIA ISLAND – The tone at this year’s Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce conference was less celebratory and more of a gut check.

As Saturday’s business began with a jam-packed agenda, Chamber leaders wasted no time in stressing that job growth is the top priority and challenge facing Tallahassee’s economic future.

The conference opened as it often does with a slick video.

“How will our story be written? Will we allow fearful voices to guide our course … driven by the fear of progress and the false promise of the safety of standing still?” a narrator says as scenes of city life play out.

“Moving forward is not bad. For almost 200 years we have wrestled with our future.”

But now opportunity threatens to pass us by, the narrator said.

“Cities that have less are doing more because they don’t fear change and refuse to give in to desperate voices of stagnation.”

Finding its voice

The battle cry at this year’s conference has been that the capital city needs more than 17,000 jobs by 2030 to remain competitive in the Florida, national and global job market.

Amazon recently pledged to generate 1,000 new jobs with the creation of a robotics fulfillment center helps, but that does not solve the daunting task ahead.

Moving beyond its typically guarded posture, the Chamber issued a call to action to its members to be more visible and vocal.

“We will turn out to meetings and make sure the voice of the business community is heard loudly and clearly,” Jay Smith, the Chamber’s board chairman. “Our public communication will be more assertive and more frequent.”

In a change of course that will no doubt reverberate in the 2022 Tallahassee elections, Smith said the chamber will “cultivate candidates” and “support our allies with resources to drive our community forward.”

He offered sobering statistics that illustrated what Chamber leaders call a “workforce crisis.” When looking at the 32 largest counties in Florida, Leon County ranks as the second to last for population growth since 2010.

Leon County’s job growth rate since 2001 is an anemic 6.1%. Smith said he was sharing “not to bring you down but to fuel your fire.”

“We are not only advocating for a shovel in the ground,” Smith said. “We are putting a stake in the ground. Job growth is the key to our success.”

Smith added that everyone can get behind jobs and said there should be no politics in growing opportunities for all Tallahassee residents.

“There is a clear connection between job growth and systematic problems Tallahassee faces,” Smith said. “Our failure to grow a private sector economy has led directly to our chronic crime, persistent poverty and other problems.”

Tallahassee Chamber incoming chair and Prime Meridian Bank president Sammie Dixon added “If you don’t like change you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

 “The only way to do anything is to build up our economy. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.”

Economic forecaster Marci Rossell: ‘It’s a fireworks recovery’

Economic forecaster Marci Rossell, former CNBC Chief Economist, was the morning keynote speaker and covered a broad swath of topics.

Employers will need to embrace the rapid evolution and desire for flexible workplace arrangements. Some changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay.

“There will be a permanent virtual element to how you do business because its cheaper and more efficient … in many ways,” she said.

Rossell also said the current recession is unlike others that have impacted the U.S. and the globe in years’ past. Recessions usually start in one sector, such as housing, and then bleed into other parts of the economy.

This one created a healthcare crisis, triggering a tsunami of economic carnage that impacted supply and labor shortages. For example, Rossell said half of workers in the dental industry were laid off in a matter of two months during the pandemic.

“Jobs were the first thing to go, instead of the last thing to go,” she said.

Rossell described the state of the economy and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting it as a “fireworks recovery” that was unfolding in vastly different ways in different regions and countries.

“Sometimes the fireworks are strong or weak,” she said. “Fireworks are wonderful but they are going to come with some noise.”