Q: What is the value of “community” in business, and in Florida business circles specifically?
“Community” is closely related to partnering and networking. I think it is critical to success. I also believe that it is a deep-rooted spiritual need. People inherently recognize that fulfilling any relationship, business or personal, requires a connection to something larger than yourself. Some individuals find this in religion, others find it in some other cause. Successful businesses recognize the need to offer more to their community than a tax base, more to their employees than a paycheck, and more to their customers than a commodity.
I recently read of a grocery chain that has given up on the weekly newspaper inserts that are typical in that industry. They found that they were being “cherry-picked” on sale items. Now they concentrate marketing on their best customers, and want to develop a fiercely loyal customer base. The efforts in my company are directed toward developing long-term relationships with our customers, and to understanding and anticipating their needs. We are an engineering/construction company, and recognize that anyone can pour concrete. We understand that unless we develop and maintain “community” with our suppliers, subcontractors, and customers, our long-term success is in danger.
Community is one form of a network, and networks are the hubs of information. Until you become part of a community, you can’t share in the flow of information. News is in the networks.
There’s a real dichotomy in Tampa between the “old boys’ network” — the big, established companies in the area — and the younger up-starts who tend to arrive from outside of the area. As a newcomer myself, I have felt the frustration of arriving here, wanting to connect with the community, and not knowing at all where to start. In the Company of Friends, we’ve been talking a lot about trying to foster a higher level of camaraderie between the small and medium-sized businesses in town, as well as the free agents. A fair number of free agents live in this area and work in other parts of the country because Tampa’s quality of life is so high and we have such an outstanding airport. We know there are a lot of residents who don’t register on the local radar because they’re working for a company that’s somewhere else. We want to bring those people together. There’s a common feeling in our group that it’s wonderful to live in Florida and work elsewhere, but it would be even nicer if we could live here and work here.
We probably already have the numbers to build a cohesive business community in this region. Now it is a matter of making connections and building some cohesion among different folks in the region.