Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — The past year has been a unique and challenging time for the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, says Jerry Libbin, the chamber’s president and CEO. In an interview with Invest:, Libbin detailed the chamber’s contributions to the community during the most pressing moments of the pandemic. He also addressed relevant topics related to the local economy, ranging from sustainability to diversity and inclusion.
What would you identify as the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s contribution to the successful management of the pandemic within the city and the county?
Clearly, no Chamber leadership, staff or board member has ever had to deal with such a challenging 15 month period. Robin Jacobs, the Chamber’s Board Chair, worked with me, the mayor and the city manager to cover all kinds of issues. For example, Mayor Dan Gelber reached out to the Chamber and
asked us to help bring together leaders from every sector of the community to ask them about ideas for best practices during such unprecedented times. This was a humongous task, and after six weeks, we gathered industry specific suggestions and submitted them to the City. I am pleased to say that about 90% of those suggestions were incorporated in the operational guides for businesses to operate.
My staff, led by Danny Diaz, our V.P. of Marketing created the Coronavirus Business Relief Guide on the front page of our website. We populated this guide with the most current information each day about grant opportunities both federal, State and local, as well as job openings. Additionally, we made a conscious decision not to drop any members over their inability to pay as we believed that this was the time when our Chamber could be of the most help and likely the least likely time that members could pay their dues.
What would you identify as the most pressing needs for infrastructure in the city of Miami Beach?
The most difficult challenges that we face on infrastructure is how to create a more sustainable future while combating the effects of sea level rise. We are a city that is built on silt so eventually when the sea rises enough, water will bubble up through the ground.
In New York, or other cities that were built on rock or concrete, they may be able to keep the water out just by constructing taller seawalls. Our only solution is to elevate buildings and roads and I would say that our biggest challenge is how to incentivize the public to take ownership of this problem. We have to create partnerships that incentivize individuals to take responsibility for protecting their own property, either through grants, partial grants or other types of incentives.
What are some relevant developments for the chamber’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council?
The DE&I council has been very active. We have been successful in having the city adopt a measure that will monitor the number of contracts awarded to minority owned and woman owned businesses and to make an effort to be more inclusive in awarding contracts. We organized a fantastic panel to discuss Isabel Wilkerson’s best seller, Caste and had almost 90 people participate in this program.
Interestingly, we created our DE&I Council long before George Floyd’s unfortunate murder, and I attribute that to the vision our lay leadership in our Chamber. In fact at a recent Juneteenth celebration the Chamber was recognized for being the first organization in the city to create a DEI Council.
One other note is that as a result of us creating the DEI Council, the city of Miami Beach has subsequently established a Black Affairs Advisory Committee.
What opportunities for the local economy do you see with the influx of new residents into South Florida?
It’s really a very interesting time because the situation represents both significant challenges, as well as opportunities. We have seen some tech entrepreneurs buying expensive houses in Miami Beach, but the companies have not moved here just yet in large numbers. When it comes to attracting new companies, our city has a problem with the lack of sufficient Class A office space. This will require leadership by the City Commission to educate the public and to have the courage to amend land use ordinances to allow for height variances that will be needed to attract developers that will then be able to build the type of office stock that we need to bring high quality businesses to Miami Beach. Additionally, at this time there is a severe labor shortage which has made it very difficult for many businesses to operate at full strength
What is your outlook for the city of Miami Beach over the next two to three years?
We are a very resilient city. Time and again, no matter what has happened to our city, or our county, Miami Beach has always been at the top of the list of cities to bounce back. I am very optimistic that we will get over these challenges. Our tourism numbers have already rebounded to a large extent and two years from now, we will be stronger than ever. That has been our history.
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