Miami chamber reflects on successes as goals meeting nears
By Risa Polansky
Advocacy and education reigned this year as the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce implemented its plan of work laid out at last year's Goals Conference, officials say.
This year's conference for the 100-year-old chamber is scheduled for June 1-2 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Looking back at the year, "we've been very, very active at the chamber and focusing not just on the easy things we could solve in a couple of meetings but things that need to be advanced over time," said Adolfo Henriques, outgoing chairman.
"It has really been a banner year for advocacy," agreed Chamber President and CEO Barry Johnson.
About 25 chamber members met last month with Miami-Dade legislators, including House Speaker Marco Rubio, to advocate property-tax reform, education funding, Miami River dredging and other issues on behalf of the business community.
Legislators granted the river dredging project $5 million, Florida International University's medical school $5.4 million and a new genetics research institute at the University of Miami $80 million.
"The support and attention we continue to raise on those issues is really what results in some of the changes being made today," Mr. Henriques said.
Some bills, like one in support of Florida KidCare, did not pass, but the chamber is continuing to "really put the pressure on our Legislature," Mr. Johnson said.
Chamber representatives will be present during the special property-tax legislative session in June, he said, "to continue to reinforce."
Chamber members also traveled to Washington, DC, this year to meet with the director of Homeland Security to discuss how to best facilitate security at the airport and seaport, Mr. Henriques said.
Advocating affordable and workforce housing was another of the chamber's goals set last year, and it sponsored summits "teaching companies what to do about being able to get the right housing for the people they're looking to attract," he said.
Recent City of Miami and Miami-Dade County blunders in providing affordable and workforce housing to the community were "a disappointment, certainly," Mr. Johnson said, but the chamber's efforts can be seen in local business' initiatives to aid employees in purchasing homes, such as Baptist Health South Florida, which provides loans to first-time homebuyer employees in hard-to-fill positions.
The chamber's many conferences and summits, such as a hurricane preparedness seminar, human resources symposium and forums presenting both sides of the strong mayor issue, which passed in January, worked to "ensure our members are educated on issues," Mr. Johnson said.
Another large accomplishment, both men said, was sending more than 50 members to Latin America through the resurrected Americas Linkage program in April.
Enterprise Florida this year granted $120,000 to support the chamber's international initiatives after former Gov. Jeb Bush last summer vetoed $300,000 in funds for the program.
Many of these were "short-term wins," Mr. Henriques said. "There's such an enormous number of things that have been accomplished and an enormous number of things we still need to work on."
Aims for next year will be defined at next month's goals conference, when Hank Klein is to take over as chairman.
"It's my job to advance the ball forward," in the chamber's efforts to not only improve education, but to ease local insurance and tax burdens and to better healthcare and transportation here, he said last month.
Goals Conference highlights are to include an address by Marco Rubio, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, presenting the latest developments in property tax reform, discussions; the South Florida Good To Great Awards luncheon, with John Chidsey, CEO of Burger King Corp., as keynote speaker; a luncheon featuring US Rep. Kendrick Meek; and a Salute to Miami's Leaders reception and dinner, during which the chamber is to award its first Henry M. Flagler Award for Visionary Leadership.