Chamber EDC Focuses on Issues Affecting Growth

At or near the top of the list of important issues for most local governments and business organizations you are likely to find economic development as a high priority, and the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is no different. But rather than simply talking about it, the Chamber, through its Economic Development Council, is working to do something about it. And while many people are aware of the EDC’s quarterly breakfast series, there is more going on than arranging morning meetings with guest speakers.

“Probably the most important purpose is that we work with existing businesses in St. Johns County to help them grow and expand and be successful,” said Scott Maynard, vice president of economic development at the business group. “How we do that depends on the economy and what’s going on.”

Maynard said right now the EDC is focused on workforce development issues and promoting essential worker housing.

“We know everybody in our county is struggling with those two items,” he said.

Citing the county’s low unemployment rate – currently at 1.8% –  Maynard said that can pose problems for businesses needing to hire workers.

“In all my years I have not seen it that low anywhere in the country,” he said.

As the economy continues to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and consumers remain in a spending mood, businesses are finding it difficult too recruit skilled workers to fill open positions.

“There are just not that many people seeking positions in the county, Maynard said. “And because of the high cost of housing here, essential worker housing is a big part of that.”

Maynard said finding affordable housing for first responders, teachers, manufacturing line workers and other “essential” positions adds to the problem businesses face in keeping workforce levels in line with staffing needs.

“We know we have manufacturers here where 50% of their employees live outside the county and they have to commute in,” he said. “That causes traffic issues. Some 42,000 people are coming into the county to work and that’s a lot of people on the road because they can’t afford to live here.”

To help find solutions, the Chamber formed an Essential Worker Task Force that is looking at best practices from around the country.

In addition to programs like the quarterly breakfast series and special purpose committees, Maynard said the EDC also plays an important informal role assisting businesses and entrepreneurs.

“We also do some things that tend to be one-offs, but provide support to our EDC members,” he said. “Things like serving as a sounding board for when businesses are making decisions or providing opportunities for like-minded individuals who are upper management or business owners to meet with other business owners and bounce ideas off of each other.”

Maynard said ultimately, the work the EDC does in bringing business owners and leaders together benefits the entire county.

“While there is some competition, in a lot of cases it is friendly competition and they all know what ends up being good for them potentially will be good for all,” he said.