My View – Bennett Napier #BrandNewTallahassee

I have been following with interest the printed and online commentary of the “Branding” initiative for Tallahassee. I respect the back and forth and diversity of thought.

However, the sarcasm from some writers suggesting that our city taking field trips to learn from other cities around the country, is a futile waste of time and money, seem to miss the point.

I have lived in Tallahassee for twenty five years. For most of those years, I have owned and operated a small business.

I grew up in the shadow of Research Triangle Park in NC; and have also lived in Washington, D.C and Atlanta. The experience of living and/or working in those areas has fostered my thoughts on branding for Tallahassee.

When I first moved to Tallahassee, I was drawn to its similarities of places I had lived before and appreciated many of those elements.

  • In 1992, when I first moved here, Tallahassee closely mirrored the Southern hospitality that I was accustomed to, growing up in North Carolina. Over the years that really has not changed. It’s not likely to change in the future either, given our proximity to the Georgia line and the North Florida values moniker, we see promoted every election season. We should own and appreciate that reference, but it’s clearly not the focal point of promoting our fine city.
  • This is a college town. I am not stating anything original here. However, as TCC, FAMU and FSU have continued to grow in terms of national recognition and allocation of state and federal research dollars, the ability of Tallahassee to harness the “economic value” of those collective institutions has really only come into being in the last few years. The timing is right, where we could seriously begin to implement similar strategic initiatives that fostered the development of Research Triangle Park in North Carolina in the 1970s. This will only succeed if we move away from recurring “turf” battles. We will all grow and prosper if we can work together for the broader good, rather than being concerned about who owns the pie.
  • Being a government town is not a bad thing. Capital cities by nature bring a unique flavor and feel. Our biggest problem is we don’t actually act or feel like the capital of the third largest state. For someone on first glance, we act and look like a capitol, for a state, the size of Rhode Island or Vermont. If we actually believed in ourselves, and accepted the responsibility of being the capital of a state with an economy bigger than many countries, then things might actually begin to change.
  • My Soapbox. The airport. In full disclosure, I use our local airport religiously. I fly for work on average over 150,000 miles a year out of Tallahassee. I respect and understand leisure travelers, especially families with kids, have a true economic argument to travel to another airport. However, when I hear of business travelers making that choice, it “flies” all over me, no pun intended. The average annual salary in Tallahassee is $42,000.00 a year, meaning the hourly rate is $20.00 an hour. If you drive 2.5-3 hours each way to get a cheaper airfare, you just added a minimum of $120.00 in “cost” to your ticket, not including wear and tear on your car or the cost of a rental car; and not to mention the risk of traffic delays or being in an accident on the interstate. How much did you really save? If just 5-10% more of our local business travelers consistently chose to use Tallahassee as their airport choice, what could we actually achieve in terms of lowering average airfare and possibly adding one more airline?

If you read this column, you may say I have a bad image of Tallahassee. That is incorrect.

My frustration is full well-knowing all the positive things Tallahassee has to offer, in terms of workforce talent, natural beauty and quality of life and not being able to reach our full potential, because of our own actions or inaction, not because of external factors.

I love Tallahassee, and am grateful that I have had the opportunity to live here, work here and own a business here. I know the quality of life we have here is hard to come by.

However, through my travels, I have also seen what happens to cities that constantly fight change/growth, and that usually does not work out very well.

The last five years have shown us that we can move forward, diversifying our workforce base and add cultural offerings while maintaining the core of our small town feel, which we all treasure.

We can have both.

Bennett  Napier is President/CEO of Partners in Association Management located in Tallahassee. He is a current board member with the Greater Tallahassee Area Chamber of Commerce and former Chair of the Florida Society of Association Executives.