This week another slice of the Greater Pensacola Chamber turkey is about to be carved off the carcass. At a special board meeting of the chamber, CEO Jerry Maygarden discussed the need to separate economic development from the organization.
The first slice was taking tourism promotion and placing it under a new independent organization, Visit Pensacola, Inc. Though bed tax collections were up and hotels rooms filled, the hospitality industry felt it could be more “laser-focused” and do better. In December, the Escambia County Commission gave Visit Pensacola a one-year contract.
The second slice was the reemergence of the Greater Pensacola Foundation. It has always existed but has stayed primarily in the background. Several publicity-sensitive functions have been moved under the foundation such as military affairs, Leadership Pensacola and the PACE awards. Military brass don’t like their emails being made public, and chamber officials didn’t want to share nomination applications for LeaP or the awards.
The latest slice is economic development. Those who work in economic development believe that their efforts shouldn’t be subject to public records requests. Their meetings need to be private. We have been told that to do otherwise puts Escambia County at an unfair advantage when competing with Alabama and Mississippi.
Maygarden presented two options if the chamber board agrees to divest itself from economic development. The function, which is funded partially with county and city dollars, could be moved under the Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission (PEDC), an agency created nearly 50 years ago by the legislature to promote jobs and economic development. Another option would be to create a new non-profit organization, which Maygarden called “New Economic Development Agency or NEDA.”
What is left for the once great Greater Pensacola Chamber? Membership development, community building and possibly government advocacy.
Maygarden said the chamber had lost hundreds of members since 2000 and the decline has been steeper in recent months. He believed that moving the governmental functions and dollars out of the chamber would help the organization reverse the trend and attract more members.
He believed that businesses joined the chamber for two reasons. They believe in mission of the organization and/or they expect it to make their businesses more profitable. They don’t want to be on a board under Florida’s Sunshine laws, according to Maygarden.
This is a bold move, one that could either revitalize or kill a chamber that is been in existence more than 150 years. Which will it be?
I’ve never seen a turkey walk away from the table after it’s been carved up.