Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part My View that first ran May 10 in the Sarasota Observer.
Sarasota Tomorrow has taken back the high ground.
Before this Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce initiative came along, our business community tended to be defensive. It was answering, not leading. The voice of an anti-growth minority was loud.
Sarasota Tomorrow aims to promote, not oppose, quality growth and the jobs it brings. It’s supported by the business community, ranging from lawyers and accountants to merchants and the tourism industry.
We believe that before Sarasota Tomorrow, pro-growth voices were muted. We don’t think they are now. In this respect, the initiative has transformed the chamber and its participation in the community. Now, governmental leaders ask for the business community’s view prior to acting. Before, there were times that didn’t happen.
Through the initiative, the business community now has a much stronger position, and so does its chamber of commerce. The initiative has worked some wonders: It helped seal the deal with the Orioles and its multi-million-dollar benefits. It contributed largely to the rowing program at Benderson Park. It’s working on the quest for a new hotel downtown. It helped defeat the onerous Amendment 4, which eliminated potential new taxes of more than $20 millions. And half-a-dozen other achievements.
Broadly speaking, Sarasota Tomorrow has transformed the chamber.
We feel its effects at our airport as well, because the airport is a reflection of the community’s economy. Our cultural strength, the Orioles and the rowing park all generate air traffic.
Sarasota Tomorrow did it not by slick PR, but by economic studies with hard data that helped convince newcomers and outsiders and by putting in the long hours it takes to move projects forward.
An analysis indicates that Sarasota Tomorrow has helped generate a bit more than $86 million in increased personal earnings, savings and economic impacts, all for an initial investment of between $1 million and $2 million. But now we’re at a crossroad.
The initiative will decline in power unless we generate additional funding — $400,000 to $500,000 a year. It’s a tiny investment for a massive return. (Just launching Sarasota Tomorrow was challenging, given the fact that the idea surfaced when the recession was clamping down. But we succeeded.)
The initiative has four major goals:
1. Create a more business- friendly economic environment and workforce development activities to improve our quality of life.
2. Help promote transportation and transit strategies to better move products and people; housing options for all of our residents; and redevelopment of key areas.
3. Generate plans and partnerships for a better future, and keep communicating the benefits of our business engine.
4. Create one-stop assistance to help new and small businesses work through complex regulatory and permitting processes and find other resources to succeed.
In an essay one of us (Fred Piccolo) wrote a year ago, he wrote: “We have started down a path of collaboration and cooperation that has provided great returns in the present and holds tremendous promise for the future. Hopefully, more businesses will see the value of this program and join the chamber in moving the region forward in this decade.”
Steve Queior is president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Fred Piccolo is president of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.