The Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce recently celebrated 125 years of service, and is now looking ahead to the future.
The Chamber held its annual meeting recently in downtown Pensacola, outlining the previous year’s accomplishments – an 18% increase in membership to about 1,300; about 50 ribbon-cuttings for new or expanding business, and a similar number of educational and networking events.
“We’re able to look into this rich history we have, and see, in the 1890s, the focus that was put on expanding the Port. It’s funny we see a lot of the same issues popping up now, so we’re able to draw upon that experience,” said Clay Ingram, who was named the Chamber’s President and CEO nine months ago.
“They saw, back in the late 1800s, that there was a need to pool intellectual capital and real capital to put the business community, the educational community, and the military all on the same page to try to increase the economic prosperity of the region,” said Ingram.
Other highlights include spinning off tourism and economic development and renaming them – respectively -- Visit Pensacola and the Florida West Economic Development Alliance.
Visit Pensacola President Steve Hayes, in an interview last May prior to the kickoff of “Destination 2020” – in which they heard from local tourism officials, elected officials, business owners and residents.
“We started this process in January, with a session at the Museum of Commerce,” said Hayes. “We had almost 150 people show up for that event, listening and helping guide the conversation. Over the next 3-4 weeks, we had additional public input sessions; out in Perdido, Pensacola Beach and Pensacola.”
According to figures from Visit Pensacola, revenue generated from the Tourism Development Tax in 2014 was about $700 million, nearly 11% higher than the previous year, and roughly $155 spent per day per tourist.
Looking ahead to 2016, CEO Clay Ingram says their focus is divided three ways. First up, workforce education.
“To come together and make sure that we are aligned with partners in education,” said Ingram. “To make sure that the degrees being given and the things that people are encouraged to major in align with where the jobs are here.”
One example is Navy Federal Credit Union, which will employ up to 10,000 when expansion is complete in 2020. The other two areas are community health and small business advocacy.
The Chamber has also formed industry-specific committees where businesses can share best practices. And a policy committee is on the drawing board, which could speak in the future on issues affecting small businesses.