How Regionalization is Changing Borders

When it comes to planning for economic development and growth, Shelley Lauten says we shouldn’t draw the line at the county border.

Lauten is president of myregion.org, a seven-county regional development program formed in 1999 to serve as a catalyst for Central Florida’s individuals, organizations, businesses and governments to act together to make the region globally competitive.

In its latest push to reach that goal, myregion.org has reorganized its leadership structure into eight defined “Central Florida Economic Centers,” within seven primary counties, each roughly 30 miles in radius.  The plan includes two economic centers within Brevard County, with north/central Brevard leaders invited to participate as part of the East Central Economic Center and south/central Brevard leaders invited to participate as part of the South East Economic Center.  Both of those economic centers also will include leaders from three other counties.  And, since there are no “hard-line” geographic boundaries, leaders who have interest in both economic centers can select any of the economic centers, so that regional issues can move from “great ideas” to “regional actions.”

Myregion.org has teamed with the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce to be its “strategic partner” in the East Central Economic Center and the Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida to be its strategic partner in the South East Economic Center.

“This is very exciting, because it does get us thinking about the region as a whole, and what it takes to be competitive,” remarked Christine Michaels, president and chief executive officer of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida.  “This gives us a seat at the table.  This and other new partnerships will enable our area to give crucial input on matters that affect us all, and form new alliances and business development relationships.”

Although Brevard County will be included in two economic centers, Michaels believes, “on a market-based philosophy, it does make sense.”  She said the geographic areas where a Titusville company or a Melbourne company, for example, is or wants to be doing business does not follow county lines, but rather is more aligned with the myregion.org economic centers approach.

Vicki Northrup, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce, agrees with the approach of putting north and south Brevard into separate economic centers.  “We are very different from Titusville,” Northrup contends, “Down in Palm Bay, we may as well be in a different part of the state.”

Marcia Gaedcke, president of the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the economic centers approach “takes a look at how people do business.  The economic centers absolutely make sense.  This is another layer connecting the region.”

Randy Harris, chairman of the board of the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he and some other chamber board members had initial misgivings about the new organizational setup at myregion.org.

Cocoa Beach Area Chamber representatives felt “out of the loop” on the changes and “we couldn’t see our place setting at the table,” said Harris, who also is project manager at Government Contracting Resources Inc. and manager of civil systems for the Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance Services contract at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  After hearing Lauten’s presentation to the chamber board, however, Harris said he is more comfortable with the plan, adding that “we’re going to be proactive with myregion.  I’m satisfied that we’re going to move forward.  We’re going to make this work.”

“We’re not intending to divide anyone.  Our goal is to bring more leaders together,” Lauten emphasized, adding that the geographic areas of the economic centers are “where people are living, learning, working and playing.”

Lauten said the idea is to focus on regional issues like the space program or water supply, rather than strictly local issues, and get a consensus on what action is needed to encourage economic prosperity and an enhanced quality of life for all the residents of Central Florida.

Structural Changes

Under its previous leadership structure, myregion.org had a board of directors of about 110 members, with an executive board of about 30 members.  Its 2009 board of directors roster, for example, listed eight people from Brevard, including a county commissioner, two representatives from Florida Tech, and one each from the Brevard Job Link, BreitIdeas Inc., Canaveral Port Authority, LEAD Brevard and Patrick Air Force Base.

Now, Lauten elaborated that each of the economic centers will have its own regional board of advisers of 40 to 50 people, with one or more strategic partners in each economic center to help coordinate the regional convening.  The strategic partners might be a chamber of commerce, as in the case with the two economic centers that include Brevard, or could be an economic development organization or other business-led group.  There also will be an executive board of advisers numbering about 45 for the entire seven-county region, representing all eight economic centers.

“We believe this mechanism will allow us to get information and feedback on critical regional issues more quickly and effectively,” Lauten noted, helping to reach a consensus and find solutions related to regional issues.  “These regional boards of advisers for myregion.org reflect where people and jobs are centered across our region and will provide leaders an opportunity to engage with leaders from other counties that are not only close in geographic proximity, but also share common business and quality of life interests.”

Positive Feedback

Both Michaels and Gaedcke said initial feedback has been positive from their chambers’ membership to the economic center approach.

“People are saying that this makes perfect sense,” Michaels stated, noting that the strategic partnership “will not only give us the opportunity to get involved and support regional issues, but also to inform and influence the region on the issues affecting South East Central Florida, such as the possible implications of the end of the space shuttle program.”

Northrup pointed out the Greater Palm Bay Chamber plans to work with Michaels and her Melbourne-based chamber on myregion.org.  “I look forward to working with the Melbourne chamber,” Northrup remarked.  “Anything they need from us, we’re right there to help them.”

Local Economic Centers

Following are myregion.org’s two Central Florida economic centers that include parts of Brevard County.  Population and economic data are for an area within a 30-mile radius of the heart of the center:

EAST CENTRAL

Counties: Parts of Brevard, Orange, Seminole and Volusia Counties

Major Cities and Areas: Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, NASA, Oviedo, Patrick Air Force Base, Port Canaveral, Rockledge, Titusville, University of Central Florida, Winter Springs

Strategic Partner: Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce

Population: 585,650

Jobs: 181,584

Annual wages: $8.1 billion

Average annual wage: $44,632

SOUTH EAST

Counties: Parts of Brevard, Indian River, Orange, Osceola Counties

Major Cities and Areas: Harmony, “Medical City” at Lake Nona, Melbourne, Orlando International Airport, Palm Bay, St. Cloud, Vero Beach

Strategic Partner: Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida

Population: 452,826

Jobs: 159,720

Annual wages: $7.0 billion

Average annual wage: $44,126

Source: http://www.myregion.org