The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce gathers today at the convention center for the ceremonial handoff of the leadership baton to Guy King III, a risk-management executive, from Tampa lawyer Ron Christaldi.
The chamber event, its 130th annual meeting, is again a sellout, with 800 celebrating an improving regional economy and a chamber that's just added 220 more companies to bring corporate membership to 1,200.
If only Tampa could find a way forward on improving a transportation system. It remains a controversial topic that shows little sign of positive momentum.
King, a longtime Tampa business observer, recalls the days when a small group of city/county leaders could sit down and cut a deal to move forward. No muss. No fuss (at least most of the time).
Today's transportation challenge draws many more diverse people to the bargaining table. That makes progress on complex issues like mass transit, and how to pay for it, slower and more emotional.
The mantra for 2016 on the Go Hillsborough-branded mass transit front, as King becomes chamber chairman, will be "patience."
"It's a very complicated issue," King said. "This is going to be a long, long haul."
"The bottom line," Christaldi says, "is a lot of traffic may signal we are growing, but it is not good for business. It is hard to build consensus with such a plurality of views."
King, president of Tampa's M.E. Wilson insurance firm, and Christaldi of the Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick law firm, joined chamber chief of staff Bob Rohrlack to discuss chamber priorities.
They brought up the chamber's focus on improving and keeping the area workforce, of advocating in Tallahassee and Washington on issues like ending a 6 percent sales tax on commercial leases or helping to win funding for the USF medical school's relocation to downtown Tampa.
They praised the chamber's three trips to Cuba to push for a U.S. consulate in Tampa, or to partner the expertise of Tampa's Lions Eye Institute, a corneal tissue bank, or Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center with Cuban doctors.
If there was any disturbance in the chamber force, it flared briefly this fall when Rohrlack penned a letter, honest in content but sorely lacking the chamber's politically correct style, to Gov. Rick Scott. It warned Scott to make a better pick when replacing his last appointment (conservative activist Sam Rashid) on the local aviation authority board. The letter's tone apparently angered the governor.
Christaldi and the chamber's executive committee swiftly wrote a second letter to Scott seeking damage control. The matter appears resolved.
As incoming chair, King is certainly not wishy-washy. "I think Bob is the best chamber CEO in the country," he volunteers, "and glad we have him."