Some major changes could be on the horizon at the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, with the ultimate goal of getting it out of the sunshine.
The Chamber’s board of directors gave unanimous approval last week to begin the trek to privatize the organization. That would make the new Chamber arrangement exempt from Florida’s Sunshine Law that covers open meetings and records.
Jerry Maygarden took over as the Chamber’s President and CEO last summer. He’s expected to submit the new proposal to the board for a vote in July. He says school is still out on which one he’ll recommend, but the finished product likely will be one of two models. The first is based on an operation that was created in the 1960’s.
“Over the years it became a landlord, if you will, for industrial parks,” said Maygarden. “First it was Ellyson Field, and now it’s the Pensacola Tech Park downtown.” I believe it is thoroughly capable of gauging economic development on behalf of the community with public sources of funds.”
The other plan would place the chamber’s economic development into a Community Economic Development Agency.
“A 501(C)6 kind of organization, a trade association, that would do one thing specifically,” Maygarden said. “And that is economic development.”
The one common feature of each is that they both would remove economic development from the Chamber’s mission, in turn shielding it from the Sunshine Law. Maygarden says chambers, as a general rule, are not designed to serve as government agencies but instead represent business.
The Chamber receives about $827,000 annually from Escambia County and the City of Pensacola for economic development. One of the problems of having to comply with the Sunshine Law, says Maygarden, involves donations from private sources. Another problem is keeping secret talks with outside businesses seeking to locate here.
As far as the two alternatives on the table, Maygarden at this point is leaning toward the existing Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission. And he adds that he has four months to gauge how the membership feels.