As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many businesses are in full planning mode for the year ahead. A review of this year's accomplishments is underway and goal setting for 2016 brings a stronger focus on the horizon. The same is true at the Manatee Chamber.
We recently held our annual leadership retreat with three goals in mind: identify new priorities that support local businesses, pinpoint issues affecting our community's quality of life, and engage leaders in the development of strategies that lead to solutions. Once again, the business community responded by giving of their time, talents, and financial support. More than 120 local leaders worked to identify these topics as priorities: small business resources, advocacy, technology, young professionals, and education/workforce development.
I'm excited about all of these areas, but small business resources speak directly to the largest job creators in our economy. Collectively, small businesses create the bulk of new jobs. The Chamber will add new programming aimed at helping small business success, including new entrepreneurial resources. Stronger networks and greater access to training start the list of tools local businesses tell us will help them most.
Another tool to business success is advocacy with local, state and federal elected officials. Transportation, infill redevelopment, housing and innovative sustainability initiatives were among the top priorities of local business leaders at this year's retreat and our annual business survey. Tracking and understanding changes in technology is also a concern of small businesses. We will utilize professionals from technology subsets to help local businesses learn and adapt.
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Young professionals, particularly Millennials, will play a key role in helping businesses remain dynamic in a changing world. The Manatee Young Professionals program continues to grow both in numbers and in stature. Leaders at all levels must work to ensure vibrancy in our community. A big part of that vibrancy comes from attracting and retaining young people in Manatee County. This demographic is also a critical component of our workforce now and will be even more so as our workplace demographics change. And what do they want? Housing in the urban core and near employment centers, a visible and vibrant nightlife, access to leadership, opportunities for ad
vancement in the workplace, and a community that cares about sustainability.
Part of the attraction and retention of talent starts right here at home. From business partnerships starting at the elementary level, to job shadowing in high school, to post-secondary internships, everyone wins when businesses and schools come together. Students at all levels need more information about their opportunities for future success with local businesses. Several Chamber programs and new initiatives are focused on connecting students and businesses and all of these would benefit from even greater involvement.
As I look ahead to 2016 with renewed focus, I am also thankful for the dedication of so many individuals. A huge part of our community's success is due to the energy and expertise local business people contribute to meeting challenges and creating opportunity. It's not always easy, but with so much talent working together we're ensuring Manatee County is a great place to live, work, play and grow a business.
Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.