A circus-style show set the stage for the annual Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) meeting on Wednesday, an event billed as the Greatest Metro on Earth, playing on the theme of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Wearing a sparkling teal ringmaster jacket, CEP President and CEO Kevin Sheilley stood on a square stage in the center of a large tent-like exposition hall at the World Equestrian Center and shared his organization’s new five-year plan.
An annual meeting record of 1,040 people purchased ring-side tickets to eat lunch, as well as to celebrate Marion County’s successes and learn about the agency’s new “Forward Momentum” goals for 2022-26.
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“We are the Greatest Metro on Earth because we say we can, we will and we do,” Sheilley said at the beginning of his 30-minute speech. Dozens of CEP workers greeted dignitaries and business leaders for the 90-minute event.
In the past five years, the CEP surpassed all of its goals. There were 5,879 new jobs created (goal was 4,500), wages of those new jobs were 16% above the county average (15% was the goal), and there has been $891 million in capital investment.
When looking at the past two five-year plans combined (2012-21), the goals were shattered. More than 9,511 new jobs were created, the wages of all those jobs were 15% above the county average, and $1.21 billion in capital investment came into Marion.
There was some clowning around
Sheilley made his entrance in a what can be best described as clown car. A video, similar to many opening of the Academy Awards, showed Sheilley in the parking lot of the CEP headquarters in front of a car with its hood up, experiencing engine trouble.
A clown – CEP Director of Business Advocacy & Outreach Joe Reichel – drives up and asks if Sheilley called for an Uber. Sheilley gets into the car, and along the way to the World Equestrian Center, the video shows the car picking up more clowns, all of them different CEP employees.
The car then pulls up to a large door and then suddenly the car, with all the clowns, drives into the exposition hall. Sheilley then walked through the crowd to embark on his speech.
During the speech, Sheilley highlighted many of the goals for 2022-26. One main goal is to add 5,000 new jobs, with $500 million more in capital investments.
“As important all of these are, we can’t stop,” Sheilley noted of the goals of the CEP, which was named the best chamber in the country in 2020. “It is way harder to keep that momentum. We have to make sure we continue that forward momentum.”
The top priority for the plan is to secure passenger air service at Ocala International Airport for Marion County’s 380,000 residents. That announcement drew loud applause from the 1,040 people who bought tickets for the event.
List of goals for 2022-26
• Create more incubators, such as health care with laboratory space and three satellite incubators for targeted impact communities.
• Add more workforce housing by partnering with government and housing developers in a coordinated marketing plan.
• Boost female workforce participation rates by assisting women entering and returning to the labor market.
• Assist aspiring entrepreneurs through a Community Development Financial Initiative and robust Entrepreneur in Residence program.
• Develop a local Equine Quarantine Facility that will champion inspection and certification approvals needed on a local and federal level.
• Increase overall operating revenues to $3.5 million and realize $150,000 per year from the newly created Foundation CEP, a 501(c)(3).
• Renewal of the local option sales tax in 2024 for six to eight years, a move seen as imperative for continued growth of the local economy.
Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.