LARGO — Sick of the snow, Tom Morrissette moved here 10 years ago from Worcester, Mass., without a job. It didn't take him long to find one.
He's been president of the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce for a decade, so he has an informed view of Pinellas County's business climate. As he marks 10 years on the job, the Tampa Bay Times sat down with him for a quick Q&A.
Has your chamber recovered from the Great Recession yet?
Before the recession, we always had between 490 and 520 members. Then we went down to 360. A lot of companies just weren't here anymore. As of today, we have 470. We're getting people back that had it really tough during that time.
What sets your chamber apart?
We're not tourism-based, like the beaches. We have a diverse economy. Although the tourism industry has a seasonal side to it, we're looking at businesses that are coming in and providing good-paying jobs all year long.
Really? When people think of Largo, they think of drive-throughs and strip malls. Is there more?
Off the beaten path, there are places like Tech Data that employ hundreds of people. ConMed Corp. makes parts for knee replacements. Bic Graphics is putting out millions of pens every day. When we take tours, I'm always amazed by the types of companies we have. You go in and say, "Oh my God, this is right in our back yard."
How are chamber activities going, such as groups that trade business leads?
We have four leads groups. Soon, we think we'll have enough to make up a fifth group. They each meet twice a month. … People get actual referrals because it's more "who you know."
Your organization changed its name from the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce to the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce to the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. Why?
It's more the area of Central Pinellas than the boundary of a town. We have members from Tampa. If they're doing business in our neck of the woods, they want to be out here. We have a member from England. He's in exporting.
Largo is losing a movie theater, a bowling alley and a driving range. Another strip mall and gas station are coming instead. Is Largo becoming more boring?
A lot of stuff that was built in the '50s, '60s and '70s is reaching the end of its life. We're built out now. Everything that's happening is going to be redevelopment. You can't really go in and spot-zone and say, "We don't want another gas station." But as these decisions get made, I certainly would like to see some vision — what does this place look like in 20 years?
Is that why you're on the executive committee of the Yes for Greenlight transit initiative?
I firmly believe it's an economic development issue. We're the only major region in the country without a real mass transit system. Companies are looking here and saying, "It's impossible to get around."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.