After months of preparation, the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce is ready to launch a separate agency for economic development. Among other things, it gets the Chamber out from under Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Chamber President Jerry Maygarden proposed the separation last year and on Monday, the chamber’s Board of Directors approved it during a special meeting. The Pensacola-Escambia County Promotion and Economic Development Commission is an independent 501(c) entity, much like the tourism promoter Visit Pensacola.
“[It's] A separate organization entirely, with an entirely different board, a community board,” said Maygarden. “And allow it to function as the chamber has in the past, but be primarily a recipient of public funds and responsible for the open records laws.”
The decision to make the changes was made shortly after a rather pointed opinion issued by State Attorney Bill Eddins last summer. In a letter to the Chamber, Eddins reminded officials that they were one of the few private organizations that were under the open meetings law.
“They’ve made the choice that they were going to receive money from the county,” said Eddins. “Anytime a private entity receives money from a governmental entity and does a governmental function, they’re required to comply with the Sunshine Law. The policy behind that is real clear – the public has a right to know where public money is being spent.”
Getting out of the sunshine comes at a price – the Chamber will forego about $850,000 annually from Escambia County and the City of Pensacola – $500,000 of that going towards economic development.
When the new agency kicks off October 1 -- the beginning of the new fiscal year – Chamber President Jerry Maygarden says it will be doing many of the same things as the Chamber has been doing.
“We have a ‘Vision 2015’ strategic plan that we’ve been following for the last five years, that basically has some very specific job creation targets,” Maygarden said. “It focuses on targeted industries for our community; things like aerospace and health and life sciences.”
The new agency will also free up the Chamber to look into other projects and activities, such as beefing up marketing efforts outside the Pensacola area, and providing new challenges for their members. Maygarden points to the late April flooding in downtown Pensacola as an example of what the Chamber and the business community should now focus on, for the first time since Hurricane Ivan a decade ago.