While having lunch at the Sandbar restaurant on a beautiful summer day on Anna Maria island, owner Ed Chiles and I discussed the upcoming October 17-19 Sustainable and Authentic Florida Conference. Immediately, I was attracted to the idea and offered for the Manatee Chamber’s hand in support, being a sponsor (with the Chamber board approval later forthcoming) and in promoting the event. Ed was honored this first time Conference was coming to Coastal Manatee County because Anna Maria was such a place of character and been able to thrive in times of economic downturn. I was encouraged by (our Chamber) the fact that we had something in common with Anna Maria and although we have seen harder times and a drop in membership, we recently received the distinction by the Tampa Bay Business Journal as the largest Chamber (in terms of membership) in Tampa Bay.
The Manatee Chamber’s involvement over the years in so many quality issues in our community also made us a good match for such a Conference. Where do we begin to tell the story of the Manatee Chamber and it’s origins? All the way back to 1889 and the then Bradenton Board of Trade. Some of the “place-making” history is as follows;
— to name a few signature events – the Board of Trade (nearly 10 years later) helped in the securing of the first railroad to our community,
— then in 1926 advocated ambitiously for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to be constructed,
— not confined to development for development’s sake but more for development of “community” –
— e.g. in the early 1990’s the Chamber recommended to Manatee County to establish “livable roadways” whereby up to 5% of construction is earmarked for livability factors such as landscaping, bike paths/sidewalks and aesthetics,
— in 2010, the Manatee Chamber created a Green Initiative in which corporate energy efficiencies were recognized to reduce dependency on foreign oil and job creation/retention.
Realizing right of way costs were increasing and the ability to pay for roadways are very limited – for example, there has not been an increase in the federal gas tax since the Ronald Reagan era, the Chamber has investigated other measures such as safety and intersection improvements such as light synchronization or intelligent transportation systems (ITS). In 2003, we were able to garner $27 million (out of a total $50 million) to go toward hundreds of intersections in Manatee County. This will ultimately improve roadway efficiencies by between 18-24%. A sound investment .. and your Chamber was in the leadership on the funding of this initiative – advocating in Tallahassee. Chris Mead, Senior Vice President with the American Chamber of Commerce Executives and authoring The Magicians of Main Street: The Story of America’s Chambers of Commerce, stated, “ Transportation remained a focus of chambers of commerce in the early 20th century, as it had been in their earliest days.” Such is certainly true in Manatee County and our Chamber throughout it’s existence. The Transportation Committee retains a very strong identity in our organization. Whether it is getting from point “a” to point “b” or merely handing over a map at the front desk, what could be more important in place-making genre?
According to Bob Bartz, President of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce for 30 years; “Place-making is a centerpiece of our organization”. Most recently, he continued, the Manatee Chamber has worked successfully in support of a medical residency program to recruit more physicians to our underserved area and in helping to provide an equitable funding formula for our technical institute ($4 million over two years at MTI). These two initiatives over the last two years will improve our community greatly in job training/placement and physician recruitment. These accomplishments are all about place-making.
In 2014, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce will celebrate their 125th anniversary. The tradition of .. “business people cooperating for the good of the community” is a legacy to be proud about. Likewise, go to www.sustainableandauthenticflorida.com and sign up for a conference to also be remembered through the ages.