Miami-Dade business groups tackling economic challenges through teamwork
By Risa Polansky
As the economy continues to throw curveballs, local business organizations are reaching out to members to get a grip on the effects and form plans to counteract them.
The Miami-Dade Coalition of Chambers is planning a community-wide economic summit for November designed to identify economic roadblocks and discuss best practices to circumvent them, said Bill Diggs, coalition chair and president and chief executive officer of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.
"It's about not just exposing the problem, but kind of unraveling what to people has become a big concern and scare," he said. In addition to addressing worries and fallout, "we need to talk about the best practices in regard to how some people are flourishing."
Some institutions are navigating the economic maze well, he said, emphasizing that it's important local businesses take the initiative to identify the best way to do the same.
"If we can kind of put a name to this problem and then determine how we can be successful in the midst of it and not hide behind it, as an entire community we can do what we're supposed to do as leaders in this business environment," Mr. Diggs said.
The local business environment has changed considerably in the last year, with unemployment rates climbing about 2 percentage points from 4.1% in September 2007 to 6% last month.
Though the number improved over August's 6.2%, business organizations are resolving to be proactive with the future still uncertain.
"We're going to develop a program where we're going to ask our volunteers, members of our board, to go out and have direct visits with businesses in Miami-Dade County," said Frank Nero, president and chief executive officer of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development arm.
The plan is to circulate a questionnaire designed to pinpoint "what challenges they're dealing with, what issues they have and try to categorize what types of assistance they need," he said.
Already, council staffers visit about 130 local businesses each year. Now, the Beacon plans to step it up.
In the works also is a program in tandem with Miami International Airport where officials plan, beginning in January, to take heads of local multinational companies through the new terminal to showcase the airport as an asset to doing business here.
"All of this together will be a part of sort of our new and expanded program to outreach to the local companies," Mr. Nero said.
Several local business entities have joined forces to promote Miami-Dade around the world as a business-and-tourism destination through a new campaign: "Where Worlds Meet."
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Beacon Council, the airport, the seaport and American Airlines are backing the $2 million print and online campaign to tout Miami in markets such as New York, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy and Spain.
Locally, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is focusing on outreach to current members, as well as non-member businesses interested in taking advantage of chamber programs and events.
"We are doing several things in light of the current economic debacle," said Barry Johnson, chamber president and CEO.
The chamber is offering payment plans to those with cash-flow challenges and has also introduced a "new level of membership" that allows businesses to join the group at a reduced rate for their first year.
"We call it a recession buster," he said, designed "to offer more opportunities to stimulate growth and activity."
Staffers are also contacting each chamber member to get a feel for how business is going and if and how the organization can help.
"What we offer is an opportunity to engage in networking, opportunities to showcase business, to meet new people, in some cases share experiences so that together we can all be stronger," Mr. Johnson said.
Similar efforts are under way across the bay.
Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce officials are planning roundtables with city officials and leaders in the hospitality industry "to work closely together on how we can help our businesses thrive," said President and Chief Executive Officer Wendy Kallergis.
The chamber is offering workshops for businesses to help develop sales and customer service techniques and is already seeing restaurants and hotels offering special deals and rates, unusual for this generally busy time of year.
"What we're doing now is looking at the big picture and looking at the upcoming year and how we can promote tourism and business," Ms. Kallergis said. "Tourism is our business."
Beach officials are looking forward to December's Art Basel event as a potential boost, she said, as well as iconic hotels the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc re-opening.
"We're excited about the new hotels coming aboard," agreed Stuart Blumberg, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.
But introducing new rooms to the market at an already shaky economic time leaves the future uncertain, he said.
The hotel sector's "situation is unpredictable and odd at this point," Mr. Blumberg said, with 3,000 new hotel rooms coming online within the next two months, between the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, Ocean Beach, Epic and Viceroy.
"Putting that many rooms on the street going to the winter season… we really don't know."
Still, he said, "I haven't heard anybody yet that doesn't think they're going to have a good winter."
The association works hand-in-hand with the visitor bureau, which serves as a marketing arm, to ensure tourists continue visiting Miami.
"It's really cross-pollination," Mr. Blumberg said.
Business leaders agree that, in uncertain times, teamwork is key.
"It's really important that we promote all of Miami as a destination and work together to help each other," said Ms. Kallergis of the Beach chamber.
Mr. Johnson of the Greater Miami Chamber said the same.
"We have to be a little more creative and we have to depend on each other a little more."