A new year brings the opportunity for a fresh or renewed start. Goals are set with optimism and determination. For me, it's an exciting time of the year. Folks begin to work in earnest on personal goals and businesses do too.
This year, the Palmetto Youth Center's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest focused on the quote: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." We applaud the winners, finalists and all of the nearly 300 students who took the time to write and submit an essay. Today, the Chamber's Manatee Young Professionals (MYP) program is volunteering with the NAACP and 13th Avenue Dream Center at the "Bridging the Gap" event. It's exciting to think about students, young adult leaders, law enforcement, educators, and civic leaders coming together to foster understanding in our community.
Each of us has issues that speak to us. Taking Dr. King's as an inspiration, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce encourages you to speak up about what is important to you. The Bradenton Herald recently announced the creation of "Together Manatee" as a conduit for good ideas. Businesses and residents are encouraged to suggest project ideas that will positively impact our community.
Last week, noted economist Dr. Hank Fishkind told a group of local business leaders 2016 will be a year of economic growth in Manatee County. I'm really excited about areas that the Manatee Chamber's board of directors has chosen for renewed focus. By bringing strong leadership to the table we're committed to making an impact on issues that affect local businesses and our community.
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One new initiative we'll launch is a pilot project aimed at exposing students to more local careers through a job shadow initiative. This new program is a welcome addition to the elementary school career awareness program and high school financial literacy program that the chamber presents each year. We're also aiming for more internship opportunities through local businesses. We believe these and other efforts will help students connect with more job opportunities -- which is a win for the students and also for local businesses.
Another focus will be encouraging young professionals in their advocacy efforts. We're still hearing from millennial and Gen X members that Manatee County does not yet have the right mix of housing options to meet the needs of their demographics. This is a critical issue
to positioning Manatee County to attract and retain a vibrant workforce. I am excited about the new ideas and important dialogue that young professionals will bring to the table at the chamber this year.
We'll also be looking at technology, entrepreneurial support and small business resources. As we review the progress achieved in 2015, and with so many indicators pointing in a positive direction, I believe that 2016 will be another year of forward progress for Manatee County. Let's get started.
Robert P. Bartz, president, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.