Tampa Chamber of Commerce and its Committee of One Hundred split

A long-brewing division between the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and its powerful economic development arm, the Committee of One Hundred, is now official.

The leadership of both groups said Thursday morning that they are becoming independent entities.

"Operating as two separate entities will allow each organization to function at its highest level," chamber chairman Henry Gonzalez said in a statement.

He said it would let the chamber focus on workforce development, small business, leadership programs and public policy issues.

The Committee of One Hundred, rebranded as the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., will focus on job creation, with an emphasis on business retention, recruitment and growing business sectors such as life sciences, international trade and financial services. It will be funded and operated autonomously from the chamber.

"We believe this is the best of both worlds," said Mark House, chairman of the new economic development corporation.

Whereas the chamber is volunteer-driven, the economic development group is "almost entirely client-driven," House said.

Staffers will focus on helping companies and their consultants through the site selection process as they sell the merits of Hillsborough County and Tampa.

The development group is being launched with more than $1.3 million in projected revenues, including $288,000 from the city of Tampa, $450,000 from Hillsborough County and the balance from about 100 private companies.

The chasm between the two organizations goes back to a chamber shakeup in early 2008. After the departure of Myron Hughes, the chamber's vice president of economic development, business leaders on the Committee of One Hundred's board wanted Hughes' replacement to report directly to them instead of then-chamber president Kim Scheeler.

Scheeler subsequently left the chamber for a similar post in Richmond, Va. After an eight-month search, the chamber named Bob Rohrlack as president and CEO this year.

Keith Norden became president and CEO of the Committee of One Hundred in January. He'll keep the same title with the economic development corporation.

Norden acknowledged there will likely be "fallout on each side" as some members choose to remain only with the chamber or only with his new group. However, he still hoped to keep the number of investors close to 100.

In a letter e-mailed to members Thursday morning, Gonzalez and Rohrlack said the split will give the chamber greater autonomy as it tries to improve the "economic diversity and prosperity of the business community."

"Your Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce remains one of Bay area's strongest business organizations with more than 1,900 member companies," the letter said. "We will continue to be a network of influential business leaders, where our members can access information and locate resources needed for business growth."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.

Tampa Chamber of Commerce and its Committee of One Hundred split 10/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2009 7:30pm]

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