Pensacola, Florida
Monday October 14th 2019


LeaPing Forward

Chamber’s Business Leadership Program Welcomes New Class

Since 1982, the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce has been working to push for more leaders in the community through an initiative called Leadership Pensacola (LeaP).

LeaP’s success was quickly fed through local businesses’ and employers’ recommendations and sponsorships for their employees for the 10-month program. Through a selection process designed to group 50 people to “best represent Northwest Florida,” a class is formed.

Each class attends retreats and seminars, and completes community projects. According to the Chamber, the goal is for the new leaders to “develop an inter-disciplinary approach to focus on the issues currently facing Northwest Florida and to look for potential solutions for the challenges we will face in the future.”

Cheryl Kirby was working for a local credit union two years ago when she was asked by her CEO to apply for the program. Today, she owns her own business and is an adjunct professor at the University of West Florida.

She says the program not only gave her an overview of the community, but gave her a sense of pride about where she lived.

“You begin to know how things work, and you meet a lot of people from a lot of different areas.”

Each LeaP class is assigned a project to complete at the end of the course. Kirby’s class created blue recycling bins that were instrumental in Pensacola’s citywide curbside recycling program.

“The program, as a community leader, did make you appreciate Pensacola more and the challenges it had,” she says. “People make up your community and little things you can do to impact the community.”

To this day, more than 1,100 leaders have graduated from the LeaP program. The 2010 class netted 49 graduates and initiated a kindergarten reading program called “I’m Ready,” designed to get kids ready for grade school.

“It was an awesome experience,” says Chad Stacy, a graduate of the 2010 class and financial advisor with Edward Jones. “It was by far the best thing I’ve done down here,” Stacy claims. “I’ve been here four years now as a financial advisor and been on the board of the PYP and served as an ambassador of the Chamber…I’ve done a lot of things, but by far, this LeaP thing was the best experience.”

Stacy says he recommends the program to anyone with a business sense and says that even if you are from here, you’re likely to learn and see things in the city that you would likely never do on your own.

But he says that above that, the relationships that are built are the best aspect of joining LeaP.

“I knew one or two people before I went in…the relationships I made from LeaP I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

Fellow class member Scott Grissett, development manager at Andrews Institute, agrees.

“I’ve made incredible friendships. Several of us have kept in touch. I mean, these people, at the drop of a hat…send an e-mail or call and they’ll be there.”

One of the activities LeaP students take part in is an evening of networking, which allows members of the class to interact without any project or lesson.

“It was the first time we got together for extended times, and it let us network and go out and enjoy ourselves on another level,” says Mark Egner, a project manager for Terhaar & Cronley General Contractors. “I can’t think of a day that I would say I wouldn’t want to do that again.

“It is such a diverse group of people,” he adds. “I’ve been here eight years and I wouldn’t have been involved with any of these people if I didn’t do it.”

Other social events include a ropes course and a trip to Tallahassee to see the state legislature.

Many who go through the program later get involved with the LeaP curriculum committee, which handles the applications for new members.

Kirby says she got involved with the committee because it was a great way to give back to the place she calls home.

“I consider myself a local…I grew up here. I have deep roots in Pensacola, and I believe the little things that you do impact the community.”

The Chamber advertises the LeaP program as something to develop community-minded leaders — and to open awareness of what is happening around them. Those who have graduated say they were not left with an optimistic feeling of Pensacola after the class, but rather a feeling of ownership for the town they hope to move forward.

“Going through the program and going through each month, you concentrate on a different segment of the community,” says Kirby. “One day is all about health care…one day it’s education. It’s like you’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re really doing something,’ and unfortunately you don’t read about that a lot of the time. It does give you an overview of the challenges we have here, especially in our school systems.”

Grissett says LeaP gave him perspective on how to change the “not-so positives in the community.”

“There were a lot of days you’d see the not-so positives, but when you saw them, you could plug yourself in and help make a change,” he says. “The program did a great job of not showing you the bright things you always hear about.”

Egner says the program just showed the everyday things in life in a city that is much like everywhere else in terms of problems.

“I think for a lot of people…home is where your heart is. I think a lot of people blame the town they are in. I think people viewing Pensacola as a deterrent get their thoughts clouded.”

The program takes class members to city hall, local hospitals, downtown historic districts such as Belmont DeVilliers, and to the Naval Air Station.

“It’s amazing we have all of this right here,” says Egner. “A lot of us don’t know about it or experience it.”

Leadership Pensacola Curriculum
An Inter-disciplinary Approach

A community is not about topics but rather, interrelations of issues. The LeaP curriculum incorporates the issues currently facing the community and discusses potential solutions for the challenges it may face in the future. Here are the 10 curriculum topics and their objectives:

* To gain a greater understanding of our region’s history, how people have invested and disinvested in the region, and how those trends impact current reinvestment.
* To explore how we live, work & play in Northwest Florida.
* To experience, firsthand, the elements of community development by touring a neighborhood and meeting its leaders. To provide an essential basis for the curriculum year.

Present Economics
* To explore different economic development strategies.
* To understand how our community is affected by ongoing local, state, or nation-wide economic development efforts.
* To examine the results of economic development efforts in Pensacola and elsewhere.
* To generate and critique a simple economic development strategy for Pensacola.
* To further understand the area’s economic strengths and weaknesses and prospects for the future

Future Economics
* To develop an understanding of our economic base.
* To lay down a foundation for our economy.
* To standardize common understanding of economics.
* To explore the fundamentals of our region’s economy and how fiscal policy (and the leaders that shape it) influence our lives.
* To understand the area’s economic strengths and weaknesses and prospects for the future.

Tangible Support Structure
* To explore and identify the components that make up the support structure and how they impact our daily life.
* To examine how aspects of our support structure inter-connect with other aspects.
* To identify strengths and weaknesses of our support structure and how it affects how we live work and play in Northwest Florida.

Intangible Support Structure
* To explore and identify the components that make up the support structure and how they impact our daily life.
* To examine how aspects of our support structure inter-connect with other aspects.
* To identify strengths and weaknesses of our support structure and how it affects how we live work and play in Northwest Florida.

Quality of Life

* To examine and explore the positive and negative aspects of our community’s quality of life.
* To examine why we come and why we stay in the Pensacola Bay Area.
* To examine the meaning of quality of life for the various socio-economic groups in the Pensacola Bay Area.
* To explore the importance of cultural organizations and activities in the life of the community.

Tallahassee Trip
* To explore how the legislative process impacts how we live, work and play in Northwest Florida.
* To explore how the lobbying process differs in session and out of session. To explore how Florida fits into the national plan for terrorism preparedness.
* To allow the class the opportunity to speak with their legislators and staffs regarding the issues that are of importance to them.
* To provide enough freedom in the schedule for the class to explore the issues or topics of interest to them.

Leadership & Ethics
* To integrate leadership skills from past sessions.
* To understand interrelationships among leaders in the community.
* To identify the risks, rewards and challenges of leadership.
* To understand the kinds and components of leadership.
* To strengthen the bond between leadership and ethics.
* To apply knowledge of ethics and leadership to specific situations.

Closing Retreat
* To reflect on the LeaP Curriculum year.
* To explore lessons learned during the past 10 months.
* To review the LeaP experience and determine key individual and group learnings.
* To explore new individual and team challenges.
* To apply the LeaP experience to a future course of action.

For more information on the program or to apply for the 2011-12 class, visit