Chamber spotlight

University of Florida President Bernie Machen spoke Thursday night at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting dinner.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 12:40 a.m.
"Business is good for Gainesville and Alachua County."
And with that conviction, which she repeated several times during her acceptance speech, Katherine "Kathy" Pierce plans to lead businesses through 2005 as the new chairman of the board for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Pierce, 56, officially took over from Charles "Chic" Holden at the chamber's annual meeting and dinner Thursday night at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center.
"My main emphasis this year is to convince people that we business owners and business people are not only necessary for Gainesville and Alachua County to thrive, but we are good for our community. Every job in town influences or creates another job," she said.
Pierce said she also plans to encourage business people to speak up on matters that concern them. "The chamber is developing a response team that will represent its members regarding issues coming before the county and city commissions," she said. "Remember, if you don't speak up, no one will know how you feel. Not speaking up is like not voting."
She also said businesses are the primary providers of funds for charities and volunteer service organizations by sponsoring the many fund-raising events.
"If our businesses didn't believe in giving back to the community, many of these agencies would not survive, and our requirements for welfare programs would be significantly higher," she said.
The keynote speaker was University of Florida President Bernie Machen, who declared Gainesville "as the most warm and welcoming community that (he and wife, Chris) have ever had a chance to live in."
He spoke of the "town and gown" relationship that is critical to the success of both the community and UF.
"If we're lucky, and we work together, we'll be able to achieve that," he said.
"It is a social and economic relationship," he said, noting there is now $200 million in construction on campus, and there is bound to be much more in the future.
The community benefits from the athletic and cultural events afforded by the university, amenities not available to similar-sized towns, he said.
He reminded the audience that many startup companies spun off from UF have remained in the area, contributing to the local economy, rather than being sold off - "swallowed up" - by big multinational firms "and then the technology goes away."
The students here also not only get an academic education, they also get an education of life that sets Gainesville apart from other university towns, he said.
"It's its greatest strength. I hear from graduates from five years ago and from 50, 'It was my time in Gainesville that affected me more than anything else in my life.' "
Before he handed over the gavel, Holden said he felt confident his year was a productive one, and expressed surprise at how much the chamber does.
"I was aware it was active, but to its breadth and depth, I came to realize," he said.
His main accomplishments include the addition of three African-Americans, two Hispanics and two women to the board to better represent the diversity of Gainesville's businesses.
He also said he was proud that the chamber could broker the impact fee impasse.
and using business representatives to help reach an agreement that was acceptable to them and to the County Commission, turning a potentially contentious and antagonistic situation into a compromise.
Through the course of the evening, several awards were presented to active members of the chamber. The Chairman's Award, given to the individual who was the most supportive to Holden through 2004, went to the collective staff of the chamber. President Brett Christensen accepted for the dozen employees.
The J. Wayne Reitz CEO Leadership Award, given to the person who had the most positive impact on economic development, was given posthumously to Pat Polopolus, a prominent Realtor for nearly 30 years who was also known for her involvement in community services. Polopolus died last year.
Pierce is senior vice president and chief financial officer of Environmental Consulting & Technology, which she helped cofound in 1988. Before that she was chief accountant and vice president of Environmental Science & Engineering. Holden is a partner in the law firm of Holden, Rappenecker & Eubank. He's been a practicing attorney since 1965.
Nearly 420 business representatives, city and county officials and chamber staff attended the dinner.

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