Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday December 12th 2018

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Nice Guys Can Finish First

By Rick Outzen

Clay Ingram is a nice guy. Few people will dispute that statement. In the rough and tumble worlds of Escambia County and Florida politics, Ingram has a level of “gosh darn” sincerity that is refreshing and, sadly, anachronous.

A week before Christmas, the Greater Pensacola Chamber board voted Ingram to be its president and CEO. He will oversee all operational aspects of a chamber that celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014.

“Clay brings energy, leadership, a unique perspective and highly developed skill sets important to this role and our organization. We are thrilled to have him serve as the Chamber’s next president and CEO,” said Carol Carlan, chair of the Greater Pensacola Chamber Board of Directors. “His understanding of small business development, finance and the importance of regional partnerships will be a tremendous asset that will allow us to continue serving the Northwest Florida business community.”

Ingram has served since 2010 in the Florida House of Representatives. He was recently named chair of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for crafting a $12 billion budget for several agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Department of State, Department of Economic Opportunity, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Department of Military Affairs. Ingram also serves on the Florida Defense Support Task Force and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

He is a Pensacola native who played football at Tate High School and Florida State University. Ingram was a member of the Seminoles’ 1999 undefeated National Championship team. Both he and his wife, Leslie, were honored in the first class of Inweekly Rising Stars. Ingram understands the area and the challenges he faces as the chamber CEO.

A Good Fit
In 2013, the Greater Pensacola Chamber was rocked. The firing of its CFO and the subsequent executive committee decision not to renew the contract of its CEO led to two lawsuits. Because the chamber took public funds to oversee tourism marketing and economic development, the state attorney ruled it was subject to the state’s Sunshine and public record laws.

Jerry Maygarden, a former state lawmaker and mayor of Pensacola, was hired as the president and CEO. Tourism and economic development were handed off to independent agencies, and the chamber redefined its mission to being an advocate for local businesses. After overseeing the reorganization, Maygarden stepped down late last year and became the executive director of the Pensacola Chamber Foundation.

It was Maygarden who convinced Ingram to apply for the chamber CEO.

“I read that Jerry was taking over the foundation and leaving his role as president and CEO,” Ingram told Inweekly days after the announcement. “He had been a legislator and knew what that was like and then had been in the president and CEO role. I think he saw a natural fit. That’s when I think he gauged my interest.”

Maygarden walked through with the state representative the whole process of the reorganization. Ingram said, “He gave me the detail of purposely divesting of economic development, tourism, then leaving the core chamber as an entity fully focused on community building, talent retention and some advocacy at the local government level. That seemed to fit my skill set to a T.”

He was concerned about any conflicts if the chamber still received government appropriations. Maygarden assured him there were none. Ingram then contacted a colleague, State Rep. Jason Brodeur, who is also the president and CEO of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Jason was my first phone call. I knew he had been doing this for a couple of years,” he said. “He gave me the nuts and bolts of how to do both, and he gave me the confidence to go ahead and tell Jerry I think we can do it and do it well.”

Brodeur assured him that he could balance the legislative sessions with the chamber. He told Ingram that technology makes it so much easier than it would’ve been 15 or 20 years ago. Brodeur told Ingram, “Your organization won’t just survive while you’re gone. You can continue growth and it can even thrive, even with you gone a few days a week.”

Chamber 2.0
Ingram told Inweekly one of his first challenges at the chamber will be to solidify the organization’s financial base since city and county funding has gone away.

“Our cash position’s good, but the funding model is now different,” he said. “We want to make sure that the organization’s solvent. That’s got to be a focus.”

He plans to reach out to local businesses, ones that dropped their membership or never considered the old chamber. Ingram said, “We will look at the core mission of building the community. Going out, talking to businesses and letting them know that our focus now—our sole focus—is on them.”

He pointed out the chamber’s focus had been on attracting new businesses and tourists to the area, sometimes at the expense of local businesses.

“The numbers are always thrown away that 80 percent of your growth will come from existing small businesses, and I think that’s absolutely true,” Ingram said. “So our focus is going to be on helping those local businesses thrive and go about their business in an easier way.”

Under his leadership, the chamber will advocate for businesses with city and county government. He said, “We will look at the tax structure and make sure that the infrastructure is in place. We will be looking at it from the angle of helping existing businesses be able to grow and thrive and have that stable environment where they feel confident enough to take the leap to hire and grow.”

Ingram also wants to focus on talent retention and making sure the businesses moving into the area have people that they can hire. He explained, “It’s a chicken and egg. We must make sure that we’re able to produce trained workers, but also people have to have somewhere to work if you want them to stay.”

He starts work on Jan. 5. Ingram has begun working on his 100-day plan. He said, “We want to see membership increased, but I think that happens because we’ll be doing the right thing as far as providing a real, tangible and quality service to the members.”

Ingram said, “That’ll take obviously conversations with members as to what that means to them, what are the most important things they need support wise. I think there are already good programs in place. Some of the seminars and things are helpful. The networking aspects are already there.”

He understands the pitfalls in trying to “reinvent the wheel.” Ingram said, “We can take in best practices and replicate here and not have to spend all of our time and energy planning, rather than putting something into action. That’s something I hope to be able to do, is not spend all of our time game planning, then when it’s time for action, all the energy and momentum are gone.”

Overall, Ingram wants the chamber to be the unified voice for business. “Really the core mission of what the chamber should do ought to be the business trade organization and speak for the business community,” Ingram said. “I think Jerry’s gotten us a long way toward that goal. That would be what I hope the chamber does.”