Michael Ayers has an impressive professional background, having served as chief of staff for three Florida state agencies and as director of government relations with Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in Orlando. Today, as president and CEO of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce, he is charged with developing and promoting the business interests of the city’s small business owners. Ayers has embraced his current role by working closely with both Chamber members and the Melbourne City Council to enhance economic growth in the region. Ayers recently spoke with Space Coast Business about his current role and goals for the region.

What inspired you to take the professional path you have chosen?
I grew up in a small farm town in Illinois with a population of 1,500. My family was very engaged in local politics. My father was the chair of the local county party and ran for State House in Illinois, and my uncle was the mayor of the town and is currently the party chair. From a young age, I have vivid memories of meeting with politicians at all levels and working on political campaigns both for family members and friends. Politics was always a discussion point around the dinner table, and all that experience eventually led me to Washington, D.C. for stints with the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform and with the Office of U.S. Congressman Robin Hayes. I saw an opportunity to be a leader and make a positive impact in people’s lives by working directly on legislative policy.

How has your past experience helped you in your current role?
It has allowed me a wide range of professional opportunities, from holding a senior leadership role in multi-billion dollar state agencies, to leading the legislative and policy agenda for a multi-million dollar non-profit research institute based in Orlando. These experiences gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals on a daily basis and understand the need to work together and compromise if we’re to accomplish any substantive goals. I bring that collaborative approach and mind set to my current role, in which I cultivate relationships with a diverse range of member businesses.

How would you define your role at the Melbourne Regional Chamber?
My role calls for me to provide long-term strategic direction for the business community in the Space Coast. We have nearly 1,100 members, from sole proprietorships to large corporations and everything in between, along with non-profit and other organizations seeking to connect with the community. Our mission is to develop and promote the business interests of our members through representation, advocacy education and support while contributing to the growth and prosperity of the business community. It’s my job to ensure all our efforts and initiatives align with that mission.

How important is building relationships with the local business community?
Relationship building is the key to success for someone in my position. The Chamber is continually creating and cultivating relationships with community members. We’re a community builder that exists to unite disparate entities and factions and work for a common goal to improve the business climate and the overall economic health of the region.

How would you define the relationship between the Chamber and the City of Melbourne?
The Chamber has a strong partnership with the City of Melbourne. The City has been a long-time trustee Chamber member, and the Mayor serves on our board of directors. We work closely with the city council and staff to support their economic development efforts and long-term strategic goals.

What is your greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge is to define the relevance and value of the organization in today’s modern world. There are many outlets and avenues companies can pursue to market themselves, and we need to constantly evolve and evaluate our operation to ensure we’re providing the best possible value, experience and support for our members.

What is your No. 1 goal for the Chamber?
The Melbourne Regional Chamber, founded in 1925, is celebrating its 95th anniversary next year. We’ve operated on a solid foundation and have a long and rich history supporting the business community. The No. 1 goal for the Chamber continues to be to help businesses grow and to create an environment in which business thrives and continues to make a positive impact in order to improve the overall economic health and well-being of the community.

What do you love most about your job?
The thing I love most is the people I get to meet on a daily basis and knowing we have an opportunity every single day to positively impact the community.

What do you love the most about the Space Coast region?
I love that the Space Coast has a robust and diverse economy but is small enough that there’s still a small-town feel and a sense of community pride. Where else can you live, work and play in an environment close to the beach that is affordable and friendly, and also has a first-rate education system with plenty of activities to keep families engaged?

What would you say to high school students who may be interested in getting involved in community or regional economic development?
If you enjoy getting to work with a variety of businesses and community leaders, there’s no better place to work than a chamber or economic development organization. We have an exciting opportunity to positively impact the community in the long-term by advocating for pro-growth polices, while also helping business owners connect with each other and grow their businesses.