Articulate June 2017 On The Cover

Opportunity, Philosophy and Ethics

Written By: Susan Davenport, President/CeO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce

The Gainesville Area Chamber team receives frequent opportunities to assist members by attending and providing remarks at grand openings, ribbon cuttings or other celebratory events.

Often, as I research the business and consider what I am going to say at the event, I learn something I didn’t know about that company’s economic impact, charitable contributions or community involvement.

Collectively, these perspectives give our team a unique insight into the contributions of individual businesses to our community and the North Central Florida region at-large. Individually, each business’ contributions inspire a sense of awe and pride in what they are willing to do to develop and improve the community for every person who lives here.

Historically, business has often been portrayed in a negative or self-serving light. In the summer of 2014, Anthony Parkes, CCE, published an article titled, “Doing Business the Right Way.”  In the article, Parkes noted that “Trust in companies, institutions and leaders is at a record low, and chambers and associations are not exempt. Business increasingly has been seen as a cause of economic, social and environmental problems, and as prospering at the expense of the broader community.” There will always be examples of entities gone wrong. However, the majority of businesses in our region strive daily to have a maximum positive impact on our region and all our residents. 

Over the 17 years of my career, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to speak personally with CEOs and executives from some of the country’s most well-known companies. Each of these executives, while working diligently to ensure success in their endeavors, took the responsibility of employing residents from their communities seriously. When even small restructurings or layoffs affected their employees, these leaders took personal responsibility. As they perform their own duties, they described having a constant awareness that they were responsible for providing the income that allowed employees to support themselves, their families and their community through taxes and investments.

On a particularly memorable visit, I met with one CEO who had just completed travel on a long and arduous international trip, was sick with the flu and had endured a painful downsizing that he described as “One of the most difficult and emotional moments in my life.” As we spoke, he poured out his concern for his employees, their families and friends, and expressed his appreciation to our organization for working with the employees to find new opportunities. As our conversation came to a close, I asked the CEO if he could now get some rest since his trip was complete. His response was that the trip he undertook could create new opportunities to save jobs, so he would push on for now.

I was amazed by the selfless nature in which he spoke, the resilience he showed and his concern for every employee and individual who was part of the organization. This leader exemplified the servant leader in every word and action. As I have engaged with leaders of the Greater Gainesville business community, I have seen no less concern for the well-being of all of our region’s residents, and have been equally astonished at the degree of philanthropy, employee enrichment and care for the environment our businesses truly provide.

In his article, Anthony Parkes used a term, “businessworthy,” which he defined as channeling your business energy ethically and responsibly with the purpose of creating economic value that also creates value for society. Every day, companies in Greater Gainesville offer services or products that enhance the lives of other people or the success of other companies. The success of these companies results in wages that provide housing, clothing, food and disposable income for families, investment in communities and tax revenue to fund government and schools.

By conducting business that supports families, and going above and beyond to provide volunteer service and charitable contributions, Greater Gainesville companies demonstrate “businessworthiness” daily. Through their volunteer work, philanthropic efforts and community engagement, companies amplify these contributions.

For example, in 2014, 67 local employers pledged $6 million to support economic development in Greater Gainesville. Over and above these employers’ everyday contributions in wages, benefits, tax revenue and more, this additional contribution has supported the creation of the more than 1,100 jobs announced by the Chamber’s Council for Economic Outreach since 2015. 

There are also individual, but equally impactful, contributions made frequently by companies, such as:

• Phalanx Defense Systems’ kick-off of the company’s impending move into the Armory Building with a neighborhood event that included displays of his extensive cast of jumbo superhero creations along with gifts for kids and adults, and a booth with CareerSource North Central Florida representatives to help people find jobs. Not to mention, Phalanx Defense Systems manufactures lightweight body armor that saves the lives of first responders.

• Employees at Infinite Energy have access to eight hours of paid time off each year to use for approved events and organizations, and have used the time to assist groups like SWAG (the Southwest Advocacy Group), Take Stock in Children, Junior Achievement and others. Additionally, each year during the holidays, Infinite Energy employees are eligible for drawings of $100,000 to 11 winners, including a $50,000 grand prize.

Though these contributions speak for themselves, at the chamber, we consider it a responsibility and a pleasure to educate Greater Gainesville about what the track record really looks like for business contribution to this region. We are so proud of the contributions our businesses make and leadership they demonstrate.

If you are on social media, I’d encourage you to follow the hashtag #GreaterGNV. This ongoing social media conversation provides a glimpse of the many ways, large and small, that businesses and employers contribute to the overall good of Greater Gainesville. Also, the next time you see or hear a negative remark about business, I hope you’ll stop and think for a moment about how, through employment, volunteer work and philanthropy, businesses make life better for our region every day.

“There will always be examples of entities gone wrong. However, the majority of businesses in our region strive daily to have a maximum positive impact on our region and all our residents.” 

Susan Davenport is President/CEO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

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