Lemons or Lemonade?

For too many years, the Tampa Bay political, business and community organizations did not work collaboratively or effectively in attracting, retaining and supporting business. The cities of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa, as well as the counties of Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota were virtual competitors if not in name, certainly in fact. It took the wisdom, vision and hard work of forward thinking local political, business and volunteer leaders to overcome this parochial view and to realize that by working in concert with each other, we would have a better message and could achieve more. This united message did create better results and made the entire Tampa Bay area a more attractive place to live, play and work.

Unfortunately, late last year, both the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Council decided to “rebrand” themselves by using “Tampa Bay” in their respective names. By doing so, at essentially the same time, it appeared to be a coordinated effort which has not been refuted by either organization (at the time of publication). Further, when both organizations heard from others in the Tampa Bay area who expressed disappointment and dismay, including an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times which spoke of potential confusion over the name changes, the concerns fell on deaf ears. It was the equivalent of a slap in the face followed by quiet laughter. This is not the way to treat partners.

Why this rename at this particular time? Opportunity and money, of course. When in a fight to remain relevant in a market with many interests competing for economic and business dollars, it is common to believe a refresher can garner enough excitement to get others interested again. It might work temporarily. However, in order to remain relevant, the work product must match the broadness of the new brand. If it doesn’t, this will all likely have been in vain and quite possibly could leave the organization in worse shape than before, setting the region back even more.

Building trust is a difficult process that takes a long and deliberate amount of time, but rebuilding it is even harder. The need to rebuild trust is where the constituents involved in promoting Tampa Bay in general, and local areas more specifically, find themselves because of the name changes. Whether it is a personal relationship where that bond of trust is broken, or a business partner where trust is destroyed, one must ask how to rebuild the trust assuming there is a desire to do so. Do it once, shame on you. Do it twice, shame on the rest of us.

The Tampa Bay area cannot afford to go back to the “old” days where we fail to work together. As the African proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” While it should be everyone’s hope that the Tampa Bay Chamber and Tampa Bay EDC will have the best of intentions, the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the boards of these two organizations. The trust must be reestablished and embraced by all.

How can this best be accomplished? Let’s discuss one alternative: A resolution should be drawn that recognizes the uniqueness and advantage of each community, organization, political subdivision, etc., but stresses that it is the combined advantages of each that make the entire Tampa Bay Area a wonderful place to live, play and work. This resolution could be signed by any organization that wants to join in a united effort to promote the Tampa Bay area. It will be difficult to draft but not impossible. Something must be done if we want to make lemonade out of the lemons we have today.

Ray Ferrara is chair, CEO and chief compliance officer at ProVise Management Group and a board member for the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.  He has served on the board of directors for CFP Board of Standards, the Financial Planning Association, the Institute of Certified Financial Planners and National Advisor’s Trust Co.

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