It was that time again, and the guard recently changed at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce with the installation of Sam Ellison as chairman. And with the new chairman, who otherwise wears the (hard) hat of managing director of the Beck Group commercial construction firm, comes a new perspective. One, quite frankly, that is as welcome as it is overdue.
Ellison, of course, wants to maintain the John Ramil-inspired momentum that has concentrated on diversifying the economy through biotechnology growth. He also has cited international trade — especially with Mexico — and downtown redevelopment – notably affordable housing – as priorities.
But those should now be givens on anybody’s watch. As obvious as maxing out on the biotech potential of USF, recruiting more containerized cargo and overseas flights and creating a downtown that doesn’t look like a high-rise Potemkin at night.
What Ellison really brings to the table is a candid, practical agenda that emphasizes the role of the business community in education – especially vocational and technical. According to Ellison, the community has “lost focus” on those who don’t see college in their future. And that’s about one in five Hillsborough County grads. This works to our detriment, he stresses, because these are the people “we need in our industries.”
While we all acknowledge the need for those who are creative, technologically gifted and entrepreneurial, we can’t neglect our bread and butter, if you will. To wit: Construction – and its myriad trade subsets — as well as the health care, hospitality and tourism sectors.
Next step is an upgraded collaboration between business/industry and education and additional stress on apprenticeship programs. But first, somebody needed to say what Ellison said. That everybody doesn’t go to college; nor should they. We need plumbers more than sociologists. A construction guy would know that.