The organization, founded earlier this year after the demise of the nearly 60-year-old Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, is not looking to reinvent the wheel as much as reimagine the idea of a type of business entity that has been around for more than 250 years in the United States.
“The Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber was formed by business leaders who understand that a community of over 100,000 residents, supported by thousands of local businesses, must have a single, unifying voice speaking on behalf of the business community,” Blose said. “When the Flagler County Chamber shut down in the wake of the global pandemic after 60 years serving the community, the opportunity to reimagine our local chamber of commerce presented itself.”
Blose said the new organization will take an analytical approach to business and community issues to position Palm Coast and Flagler County for the future.
“Our main goal is to build a best-in-class chamber of commerce to support our region’s business community and provide leadership on the future of Flagler County,” he said. “We will use data and analytics to frame a conversation about where we are as a community and where projections tell us we are going.”
The first step for Blose, who comes to the job of president and CEO of the new business organization from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is to find out what the concerns of business owners and community leaders are by engaging directly with them.
“Although I’m moving from Tallahassee, I used to be a Palm Coast resident and I spent several years residing in Volusia County as well, so I’m familiar with and appreciate what makes this region special,” he said. “I’ve decided to embark on a ‘listening tour’ during the early stages of standing up our chamber. I believe it is important to meet with business leaders and entrepreneurs to hear about the challenges they face daily.”
Blose said one of the biggest challenges facing the new organization is gaining credibility with the business community after the demise of the Flagler County Chamber.
“I am attempting to personally meet with these business leaders, who gave generously of their time and treasure, to hear their concerns and explain how our new chamber will be different and to discuss our organization’s vision,” he said.
So far, the response to the new chamber has been positive, Blose said, with more business leaders expressing a desire to serve on the organization’s board than they have space for.
Still, there are other business owners who are adopting a wait-and-see approach, which Blose said he understands.
“My preference is to have everyone at the table as we build the beginning of our transformative organization,” he said.
One of the people already at the table is Garry Lubi, senior vice president at CenterState Bank in Palm Coast and a former chairman of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce.
Lubi said he is excited about the prospects for the new Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber and expect it to fill some vital needs in the community.
“No. 1, we still have a lot of businesses, in fact most of the businesses, in our community that are five employees or less,” he said. “The small-business owners don’t have the ability to call up a lobbyist and say go to bat for us on this or that topic. That is one of the key things that a chamber does for its members.”
Lubi said the new chamber is poised to promote things that will help small businesses in the community.
In addition, by being a prominent voice for economic development in Palm Coast and Flagler County, the new business organization can contribute to a “domino effect” of economic revitalization, Lubi said.
“The economic development advocacy that we will be promoting and are promoting and supporting can have a long-lasting effect on our community, not only for the businesses but for our residents,” he said.
Lubi said a long-recognized weakness in the local tax base from the commercial and industrial side has put a heavy burden on residential homeowners.
“We need to start reversing that,” he said. “The percentage that is generated from commercial development needs to become more significant so our residential taxpayers don’t feel the burden as much as they do today.”
While the new chamber faces several challenges, not the least of which is the ongoing economic impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, there are other issues the region faces in building a better future.
“I believe there are two major challenges facing the Palm Coast/Flagler County region,”
Blose said. “First, our community is fractured. There is a significant amount of in-fighting, bad blood and grudges being held on all sides of the spectrum.”
Blose said some of those differences are related to political polarization on the national level “but we still have more in common than what separates us.”
The second challenge is the need for a frank conversation about the region’s future.
“In other words, what do we want our community to be in the year 2040?” Blose said.
While some residents want the community to remain as it is today, there are others who envision the opportunities presented by population and economic growth. That is evident in the sometimes-contentious discussions over new commercial and residential development across the county.
“It’s my hope that, as a community, we can identify two or three common goals that we can all work toward that will improve our region and I believe the chamber of commerce can convene that conversation,” Blose said.
One area where the community can come together is in the expansion of healthcare industry infrastructure and jobs, including expansion projects at AdventHealth Palm Coast and the University of North Florida’s MedNexus project in Palm Coast’s Town Center area.
“The chamber is very excited about the future of Flagler County, especially when you consider the transformative nature the MedNexus project could have our community,” Blose said. “If Flagler County is the future home of training and educating world-class medical professionals, this region will thrive.”
While the organization is just getting started, Blose said there are several exciting announcements on the way.
“First, we will release a variety of new, lower-cost membership options coming in January 2021,” he said. “Second, I would like to share that our board of directors is committed to improving the diversity of our board. Therefore, we are actively diversifying our board seats to more accurately reflect our region.”
As he looks to the future of Flagler County and the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber, Blose said he is confident the region will become better and stronger.
“I want to thank everybody for being so supportive,” he said. “It’s been a great experience returning back ‘home’ and I hope to play an integral leadership role to help create a more vibrant, sustainable and prosperous community.”