The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce has postponed its “Award Winning Z’Hills” event that had been slated for Sept. 16. Details are being finalized regarding a new date and event particulars, and once they are known, they will be shared by the chamber. The banquet is held to show appreciation for members and the community, and to bestow awards.
Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce
After several months of discussions regarding a potential merger between chambers of commerce in Dade City and Zephyrhills, those talks have been put on pause — for now.
“The conversation has definitely taken a back seat,” according to John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce. “I can’t say that it’s shut down for good, that we don’t know, but the task force has stopped meeting currently.”
The boards for both chambers approved the formation of a task force last year to look into the logistics and possible benefits of merging the two organizations.
The task force involved about 20 stakeholders — 10 from each respective organization — representing hospitals, banks, and other small businesses and groups.
Randy Stovall, provost emeritus for Pasco-Hernando State College, chaired the task force. He’s been active with both chambers for years.
The group met about a dozen times, from October 2020 through April 2021, with groups split into a budget committee, a membership committee and a mission committee.
Its three main objectives were membership, community advocacy and economic development.
The task force generated enough progress to reach a consensus on a proposed name for a merged chamber: Greater East Pasco Chamber Alliance.
But news that the merger talks have paused was announced in the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce’s August newsletter.
The newsletter indicated the Dade City chamber’s financial outlook exceeded expectations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so merging its organization with the Zephyrhills chamber wasn’t quite as pressing as originally once thought.
Melonie Monson, the CEO of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, said the task force, on the whole, had “put together very great reasons why a merger would be the right direction to go, and really had fleshed out the greatest perspectives from this and what advantage it would be for both communities.”
But she said various hurdles surfaced when trying to flesh out the finer details of a merger concept, she said.
Monson said “the biggest problem” resulted from both chambers being content with their own current leadership, and not wanting either her or Moors to step down or take a less prominent role within a merged organization.
Monson put it like this: “We just felt like, until one of us is ready to retire, then this would be on pause. Doesn’t mean that (a merger) wasn’t the right thing to do, it’s that neither one was ready to say goodbye.”
Another sticking point, she said, came with determining locations of where a combined chamber’s main office and secondary office should be situated — Zephyrhills, Dade City, or vice versa — and how to best leverage economy of scale.
“We felt strongly there needed to be a presence in both communities of the chamber,” Monson said.
Task force supports merger concept
The task force overall found a merged chamber “made sense” and could yield several benefits, Monson said.
Specifically, it suggested that a larger, combined chamber “would have a stronger voice and advocacy on the county and state level, and members would gain more of a value by expanding the geographic reach of the chamber,” Monson said.
It also suggested that merging the Dade City and Zephyrhills groups would better help navigate booming commercial and residential development in Central and East Pasco.
With that, Monson said the task force observed a merger “would really help us in the risk of losing our territory to other entities, and making a stand of, ‘This is East Pasco.’”
These were likewise important factors for leadership within the Dade City chamber, too.
Moors detailed how the East Pasco area historically has been known as a more rural area, with less focus on business development and manufacturing.
This may not be the case for much longer, with rampant growth on the community’s doorstep.
“For the most part, there hasn’t been a lot of activity of companies moving into this particular area, but we do see that this may well change as the population increases and the density increases and the demographics change,” he said.
As East Pasco continues to grow, Moors emphasized the importance of being “in front of that wave of growth, rather than trying to catch up.”
Pandemic spurred initial merger discussions
Both chamber leaders have casually discussed the possibility of combining their respective organizations for a few years now, but more serious talks didn’t begin until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
Ramping up those conversations was important for the Dade City chamber to prepare an action plan in a worst-case scenario, given the uncertainty around the effects of the coronavirus on the area’s business and economic climate, Moors explained.
“With everything shut down, we just didn’t really know what anything was going to look like, we didn’t know what was going to happen with our membership, we didn’t know whether we were going to be able to have a Kumquat Festival, whether we were going to have any events, because at that point, everything was literally locked down. In fact, the chamber was closed for a period of time last year,” said Moors.
Since then, however, Moors said the Dade City chamber has experienced an upbeat financial outlook, with membership reportedly up 15% year-on-year, combined with a successful enough scaled-down Kumquat Festival.
Put another way, negative revenue impacts caused by COVID-19 never materialized for the chamber, Moors said. “So, the need to merge was not as urgent as we had feared,” he added.
Monson said the pandemic provided “a great opportunity” to form a task force to discuss the merits of a proposed merger, and garner various perspectives.
But she emphasized the Zephyrhills chamber didn’t need to enter the merger talks strictly out of concern regarding financial sustainability.
She said she was confident in her organization’s membership base and other efforts, even during the pandemic.
“You know, we’re a strong chamber no matter what, and we knew we were going to be,” she said. “We did not forecast the gloom and doom.”
Rather, joining forces with the Dade City chamber on a merger task force was more to vet the various benefits and outcomes of such an exercise, Monson acknowledged.
Merger talks likely not done
Monson said the merger concept — and its varied findings — will likely be revisited once she or Moors leave their current leadership posts, whenever that happens. She said the work of the task force could be revisited, once she or Moors moves on.
“I believe that we could come up with great ideas of location, I think that would be something that we would get worked out pretty easily, but the biggest thing was we were going to pause it until one or the other was ready to retire, or move on to another venture in life,” Monson said.
If a merger eventually occurs, it would be the third merger of its type among Pasco County chambers.
The North Tampa Bay Chamber is the result of combining chambers that previously represented Wesley Chapel, New Tampa, Trinity and Odessa.
The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce resulted from a merger between the West Pasco and Central Pasco chambers.
Published August 11, 2021
District 38 state Rep. Randy Maggard has reason to be upbeat.
After all, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a record $101.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 — making it official during a notable June 2 appearance at Zephyrhills City Hall.
The state budget allocates more than $66 million East Pasco projects alone, including:
- $25 million for new facilities at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Dade City Campus
- $25 million for a new Florida National Guard armory in Zephyrhills
- $6.5 million for water and wastewater improvements on Handcart Road
- $4.6 million for improvements to the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center
- $3 million for improvements to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport
Maggard — who was born in Dade City and grew up in Zephyrhills — gave a positive account of the latest legislative session and provided other news, as the featured guest speaker for the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce’s June 3 business breakfast meeting at Golden Corral in Zephyrhills.
“We have a lot of good things to talk about,” said Maggard, who represents Dade City, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills, among other areas, in the Florida House of Representatives.
“Pasco, East Pasco especially, did really well this year,” the state lawmaker said.
Maggard particularly credited the county’s legislative delegation — singling out Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Trilby and state Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican from Zephyrhills — for myriad strides made on behalf of East Pasco during the past legislative session.
The legislator otherwise emphasized that the region’s municipalities, businesses and educational institutions have a “prime opportunity” to garner state funding for other future projects and initiatives with the current legislative leadership.
“I can’t say enough about the work the delegation did to help East Pasco,” Maggard said. “This is your time, because you only get these moons and stars to line up so often, when you have people (in the state legislature) from here (in East Pasco).”
Bullish about bills
Maggard detailed several pieces of legislation that he supported, and which ultimately became Florida laws during the recent session.
For instance, he told the audience that the state’s enhanced “right-to-farm” law expands protections for farmers by generally making it more difficult for residents to sue over the impacts of agriculture operations — whether for flooding, burn fields or other reasons.
“You would not believe the lawsuits filed against farmers,” said Maggard. “They get sued more than you’ll ever know.”
The speaker underscored “the pressure” Florida farmers face relating to rapid growth and development — noting the state is now netting about 1,000 new residents per day.
“The farming industry is a lot bigger and we do a lot more than people realize,” Maggard said.
He also talked about a new state law that limits civil liability against businesses for damages related to COVID-19 — creating separate standards and procedures for lawsuits against general businesses and entities versus litigation against healthcare providers.
In other words, the law is designed to protect restaurants, retail shops and other establishments from lawsuits if an individual contracts COVID-19 in those places.
“We had to do something to protect our businesses,” the lawmaker said.
“I can tell you, certain sides were ganging up and getting ready to unload on businesses off of easy and cheap lawsuits, saying, ‘Oh, my constituent got COVID in your establishment,’ and the numbers were startling how they were lining up for that to happen, so I’m particularly proud of that bill that protects the businesses,” he said.
Another bill Maggard helped push through was enhanced civics education programming for public school districts and charter schools, requiring Florida high school students to earn three social studies credits covering U.S. history, world history, economics and U.S. government.
It also requires the Florida Department of Education to develop or approve integrated civic education curriculum that meets certain requirements, including “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential toward the founding principles of the Unites States,” according to the bill’s text.
The lawmaker said the legislation is needed to educate youth on the perils of communism and socialism beyond “what the world paints, that it’s a little rosy picture.”
“We forget what we have. We forget these freedoms,” said Maggard. “If we don’t teach it, maybe it’s our fault.”
The state representative also addressed the governor’s signing HB1, the so-called “anti-riot” bill, which increases penalties for bad actors who turn otherwise peaceful and constitutional protests into violent assemblies where law enforcement officers are attacked and public and private property is destroyed.
The bill signed into law in mid-April came in the wake of civil unrest throughout the country over the last couple years.
Maggard observed of the highly-publicized legislation: “(It’s) basically saying, you’re not going to defund your police department, and if you want to protest, it’s fine to protest, you have that right, but you’re not going to burn down the Golden Corral to do it, you’re not going to burn down the bank across the street to do it.
“There’s a lot of ways you can (protest) in this country, freely. You can walk up and down this road, but you’re not going to burn anything down. That’s not freedom of speech, that’s called rioting. Rioting’s against the law. We all work hard for this. we all work hard for what we do every day, and I think it’s a great bill, actually. It’s sad that we even have to have a bill like this.”
Maggard also shared his viewpoint on the controversial law prohibiting transgender athletes from competing in female sports, dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”
Signed by DeSantis on June 1, the law specifies an athletic team or sport that is designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex, based on the student’s biological sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate at the time of birth.
The bill applies the requirements to interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic teams or sports that are sponsored by a public secondary school, high school, public college, or university institution.
Maggard said the law “doesn’t allow boys and men to play in girls’ sports,” a comment which a drew rounds of applause from Zephyrhills Chamber members in attendance.
The lawmaker acknowledged the transgender community’s perspective, but also remarked, “How about the other 99.5% of folks? My granddaughter, I’m thinking of her during these conversations.”
The entire measure brought about what Maggard labeled as “interesting testimony” from all involved parties.
“That was a bill we got a lot flak over, but it’s just right,” he said.
“You would not believe the hate e-mails and phone calls we got from that. It was quite interesting,” he said.
Maggard elsewhere described being “most proud of” of a pair of other bills, one related to reclaimed water reuse technology requirements for utility companies; another related to auditing requirements and increased scrutiny of independent special taxing districts.
Meanwhile, Maggard said DeSantis deserves “big credit” for keeping the Sunshine State open and restrictions relaxed amid the coronavirus crisis.
“Not everybody liked it, not everybody was for it,” said Maggard, “but I can tell you, at the end of the day, ask the rest of the nation, when we talk to all of them, they want to be Florida. “People want to go back to work, people didn’t want to quit working, and the kids wanted to go back to school.
“I think we need to thank our governor for standing up, because I’ll tell you what, he took a lot of criticism, a lot of hit from that,” Maggard said.
Published June 16, 2021
The names and faces on the Zephyrhills City Council will remain familiar — but some titles are changing.
Incumbent councilmembers Charles Proctor and Jodi Wilkeson have been reelected to new three-year terms, both running unopposed in the 2021 municipal election.
They each took the oath of office, in a swearing-in ceremony conducted by City Clerk Lori Hillman during a special meeting on April 15 at Zephyrhills City Hall.
Other members on the voting council include Ken Burgess, Alan Knight and Lance Smith. Mayor Gene Whitfield also sits on the dais, though he doesn’t run council meetings, cannot make motions and cannot vote on matters before the council. He does, however, have veto power on city ordinances.
While the composition of the council didn’t change, there was a reorganization, with Knight selected to serve as council president, and Wilkeson as vice president.
Councilmember liaison appointments were finalized, too.
Burgess will serve on the Pasco County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce; Proctor, on Ridge League of Cities; Smith and Whitfield, on Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO); and Wilkeson, on Main Street Zephyrhills.
Proctor begins his fifth term on Council Seat 5.
He was elected to his first term back in 2011, when he defeated then incumbent Manny Funes.
Proctor has owned an auto detailing and coin collection shop on Eighth Street for about three decades.
A native of Portland, Maine, Proctor moved to Florida in 1989, where he quickly landed a job washing cars and as a butcher, before launching his own businesses in Zephyrhills within a couple years.
Wilkeson likewise is no stranger to the city’s governing dais — beginning her fifth term — having been elected to a three-year term April 2018 and also previously serving from 2008 to 2014.
She lost Seat 2 in the 2014 municipal election to Knight, a retired educator, but assumed Seat 3 in 2018 after defeating candidates Devon Alexander and Cory Sommers. She took over for outgoing member Kent Compton, who did not file for reelection that cycle.
Wilkeson is the founder and president of an architecture and interior design firm in Tampa.
She’s held numerous volunteer roles over the years, previously serving on the citizen-led Zephyrhills Planning Commission and Zephyrhills Historic Preservation Board.
Besides her council duties, Wilkeson is board president of the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
The mayor and city council serve as representatives of the electors of the City of Zephyrhills, and are responsible for establishing the direction and policies of all affairs of the city.
Their primary duties include exercising legislative leadership and policy to promulgate the laws and ordinances of the city, approving an annual budget to provide for the needs and services of the city, setting policy and direction for the various functions of city government, and appointing citizens to serve on various advisory boards and committees.
Council members each receive $6,000 annually for their duties.
It’s undoubtedly a busy time inside city hall — navigating the East Pasco town’s rampant growth, development, infrastructure enhancements and other changes.
Some of the council’s recent and future undertakings include:
• Managing the addition of thousands of new homes throughout city limits
• Multimillion dollar expansions to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, municipal airport and municipal tennis center
• Myriad roadwork projects, such as U.S. 301/Pretty Pond Road signalized intersection and paving of Simons Road
• Work to revitalize the historic downtown district
• Overhaul of the city’s 911 dispatch communications system
Zephyrhills City Council
Seat 1: Lance Smith
Seat 2: Alan Knight
Seat 3: Jodi Wilkeson
Seat 4: Ken Burgess
Seat 5: Charles Proctor
Mayor: Gene Whitfield
Published April 28, 2021
Zephyrhills City councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson has closely observed the evolution of the small-town East Pasco community over the past three decades.
The elected official and longtime resident is pleased, overall, with the current situation in the municipality — amid a period of rampant growth, development, infrastructure enhancements and other changes.
Some of the city’s major tackling points of late include:
- The addition of thousands of new homes throughout city limits
- Multimillion dollar expansions to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, municipal airport and municipal tennis center
- Myriad roadwork projects, such as U.S. 301/Pretty Pond Road signalized intersection and paving of Simons Road
- Work to revitalize the historic downtown district
This imminent progress can be traced to comprehensive plans solidified some 20 years ago, Wilkeson said during an East Pasco Networking Group meeting last month at IHOP in Dade City.
Wilkeson, who is the founder and president of an architecture and interior design firm in Tampa, credits the city’s “history of success” to “a series of elected leaders who’ve helped move Zephyrhills forward.”
“All of this is possible,” she added, “because we had a plan.”
Unopposed in this year’s municipal election, Wilkeson is set to embark on her fourth term — in total — of serving on the City Council. She was elected to a three-year term in April 2018 and previously served from 2008 to 2014. She also serves as board president of the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
Wilkeson’s gateway into local volunteerism public service began as a concerned Zephyrhills citizen about 20 years ago when she responded to a mail-in survey regarding city utilities and services, then writing a detailed note to city administration and leadership.
Wilkeson joked that the conscientious letter was “a fatal error,” as she was asked to meet with then longtime city manager Steve Spina and planning director Todd Vande Berg to gain the resident’s perspective on municipal operations and other happenings in the city. “The moment I wrote that note, they said, ‘Oh, she’s smart and she knows what we’re doing, we need to get her in here,” Wilkeson recalled during the March 9 breakfast meeting.
She subsequently was urged to serve on the citizen-led Zephyrhills Planning Commission beginning in 2002, given her expertise as an interior architect, and ability to decipher building plans and drawings.
Later, she served on the Zephyrhills Historic Preservation Board, from 2004 to 2008. She also was a volunteer board member for Main Street Zephyrhills Inc. — organizing parades, events promoting local CRA district businesses and otherwise helping preserve the city’s unique charm.
She was acknowledged for her contributions by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce who named her “Volunteer of the Year” in 2007.
While serving on the city’s planning commission, Wilkeson discovered Zephyrhills and surrounding Pasco County previously had been — as described — “giving away the farm.” In other words, the area had been receiving less than favorable or beneficial returns on utilities, properties, land deals and so on.
Since then, however, the town has undergone a more proactive shift.
She credits the city’s planners and public works team.
“We really raised the bar in terms of fees and accessibility, and that’s why these developers continue to want to come to our city, because they can get in front of somebody that knows what they’re talking about, and now we don’t give away the farm anymore, and it’s transforming the way our community looks. There are no more metal buildings on (U.S.) 301, (and) we have invested millions of dollars in our downtown district, and the Main Street and CRA,” she said.
As CRA board president, Wilkeson told the breakfast crowd about some of the enhancements to the city’s historic CRA district — which is a special taxing district that spans roughly 500 acres through the center spine of Zephyrhills.
In that district, future revenues from increased property values are set aside in a trust fund to support economic development and redevelopment projects within the designated CRA area.
Wilkeson detailed how these funds have been allocated toward business and residential façade grants, landscaping beautification, and maintaining the historical architecture of the area via special light fixtures, wayfinding signage and so on.
One program involves providing $5,000 grants to encourage the purchase of a single-family home within the CRA District. The idea is to spur purchases within distressed neighborhoods and to improve the owner-occupancy rate within the district. It also is meant to encourage a neighborhood friendly walkable community.
This initiative and other changes, Wilkeson said, have spurred Tampa Bay area families “who want to be able to roll their kids down in a stroller and watch a parade through downtown Main Street,” to purchase homes within the city’s CRA district. “These are people who are coming in from Tampa and St. Pete and saying, ‘We love the charm of your little community’ and they buy houses in the historic district,” she said.
Previously, Wilkeson said, “we were not reinvesting in this community and we had these older homes that were rentals, and they were a crime problem and a code enforcement problem.”
Wilkeson also expressed confidence in the city’s direction under the leadership of Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe.
Poe was named Zephyrhills assistant city manager in November 2018, then stepped up to replace the retiring Spina come July 2019.
Poe, born and raised in Zephyrhills, began his career as an intern with city administration, then spent several years working as an assistant city planner. Poe went on to land a city manager role with Dade City in 2008, a position he held for over a decade.
Wilkeson was part of the committee that ultimately selected Poe as Spina’s successor a couple years ago.
“Billy was a natural choice,” Wilkeson said. “He knew the city. He had 11 years (of) experience in Dade City as a city manager. It was a great launching pad for him to come to the city. He had a transition period with Steve Spina that helped him get everything up to speed and take over, and it’s been a nearly seamless transition.”
Published April 14, 2021
Florida’s 2021 budget is expected to be lower than it was in 2020 — due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, but incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson remains optimistic about the state’s prospects.
Those were two takeaways from Simpson’s remarks at the annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit held on Oct. 12, and organized by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
Simpson, a Republican from Trilby, predicted that 2021 will be “a very challenging budget year.”
He estimated that the state budget will be between $2 billion and $5 billion less in 2021 than its $93 billion budget last year.
“We have a lot of work do this year,” said Simpson, who was first elected in 2012 and represents Florida’s 10th district, which includes Citrus, Hernando and a portion of Pasco County.
He told those attending the summit that this will be the first time since he became a state lawmaker that the state’s budget will be lower in the coming year than in the previous year.
Despite the economic setback, Florida is well-positioned for the long-term because, for the past decade, it has been investing in infrastructure and cultivating a business-friendly environment, Simpson said.
For instance, the state has not skimped on investing in deepwater ports, and other transportation and roadway improvements. It also has slashed sales taxes on manufacturing equipment — to attract large firms and higher-wage jobs.
The state has paid off about $10 billion in debt during the last decade, bringing total debt to around $20 billion. And, it has reduced taxes by a corresponding amount, he said.
Moreover, the state boasts a AAA credit rating from all three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, he said.
To put it into perspective, Simpson noted a similarly populated state like New York is “eight, nine notches down from a AAA credit rating.
“When you think about Florida, we’re one of the lowest tax states in the union, and there’s certain states we could probably never win because we don’t have an oil reserve here to where we can give dollars away, but other than that, we have no state income tax. From a regulatory structure, we have one of the best states to do business in,” explained Simpson.
New York, which has a population of about 19.5 million, has a budget of about $200 billion, Simpson said. By comparison, Florida’s population is about 22 million, and its budget is less than $100 billion.
“We extract half of the taxes that they extract from their system to run their government, versus our government,” Simpson said.
On a related note, Simpson said about 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. The state’s population is predicted to reach about 27 million by 2035.
Taxes and regulations are two of the reasons people are moving here, Simpson said.
He observed: “What’s happening is all of your high-tax states, all of your overregulated states, those folks are voting with their feet. They’re moving to Florida.”
But, Florida has issues it must address, including the funding of the Florida Retirement System, he said. That system’s unfunded liability now stands at about $25 billion.
That situation “will keep the state of Florida restricted on how much dollars we can spend in the future,” Simpson said.
On the topic of COVID-19, Simpson praised the country’s ever-improving therapeutic medicines and pharmaceutical industry for advancing with vaccine options and trials. The lawmaker hopes an approved vaccine is produced by the beginning of 2021, then widely available by the middle of the year.
With health and safety guidelines now widely known and followed, Simpson said Florida “should not be in a situation where we have to re-shut down. The more serious we take it, the more our economy will flourish.”
Meantime, Simpson said the state’s economy “is picking up,” and showing signs of recovery since about 30% of it was shut down for two-plus months in the wake of COVID-19.
It could’ve been an even larger hit, Simpson said, if not for the state’s robust agriculture industry and other central businesses, including first responders, health care providers, education, and truck drivers and delivery services.
Simpson, himself an owner of a regional egg farm operation, put it like this: “You don’t have farmers taking any days off. You have a farmer take a day off, grocery stores are gonna run out of groceries.”
State Rep. Randy Maggard weighs in on Florida’s future
State Rep. Randy Maggard, a Republican from Dade City, another speaker at the summit, echoed much of Simpson’s sentiments on Florida’s outlook in 2021 and beyond.
The lawmaker said he’s looking forward to the coming legislative session, but cautioned tough decisions lie ahead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Going forward, it will be a little bit challenging on appropriations and money,” said Maggard, who’s district 38 covers most of Pasco County east of U.S. 41. “You heard the senator (Wilton Simpson). We’re gonna be down. When you have that much of your businesses not producing revenue, something’s gotta give, but I think we can do it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, Florida will come out of this extremely well, just because of how it’s been ran. The legislators before me were always planning for the ‘what if,’ whether it’s a hurricane, a pandemic, but we were able to absorb a lot of that,” he said.
Maggard also addressed the state’s failures in providing timely unemployment benefits through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
In defense of the program, Maggard pointed out the DEO system was never designed to handle the influx of financial assistance requests brought about by the coronavirus, particularly between March and May.
Maggard made an analogy of the state’s unemployment system with his own career, where for 30 years he’s been vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances in Dade City.
“I can deliver 20 items a day, I’m set up for that. But, if I have to deliver 1,000 the next day, I got a problem. Well, we had a problem, because it was millions (of people), not thousands that we were dealing with,” he explained.
Maggard added he and his colleagues have “learned a lot” from the DEO malfunctions, noting the faults should be addressed in upcoming sessions.
“The pandemic really caught all of us a little off-guard,” said Maggard, who won a special election in 2019 to finish out the seat vacated by former Rep. Danny Burgess.
“If you were not an essential (worker), it was really rough. Our office held many, many phone calls and emails trying to help individuals who lost their job, to get state funding; and, it was overwhelming. It was very humbling to see what happens to your neighbors and friends here, and we all know the system didn’t work exactly like it’s supposed to,” he said.
Published November 11, 2020
From manufacturing hubs and roadway improvements, to myriad residential developments on tap — Pasco County has much to be thankful for during these unique and challenging times.
That was the overarching message put forth by Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley at the annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit, held in October at Zephyrhills City Hall.
The county commissioner was among featured speakers during the event organized by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
Oakley exuded optimism about Pasco’s future, from the moment he stepped up to the microphone: “Goodness gracious, you couldn’t ask for a busier county, and a busier East Pasco county,” he said.
He’s particularly bullish on an influx of manufacturing opportunities throughout East Pasco.
One case in point: A new industrial park in Lacoochee, headlined by a 25-acre precast concrete plant, with room for additional tenants.
The little town just north of Dade City has struggled to find development for decades — since Cummer’s lumber mill closed back in 1959.
Upgrades to Cummer Road and Bower Road in the area, plus workforce housing opportunities, provide “improvements we need for that manufacturing going there,” Oakley said.
There’s other potential boons, too, such as the 99-acre wastewater spray field on Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel that’s being developed as a commercial park by the Atlanta-based Rooker Company.
Oakley also mentioned two warehouses that, taken together, total more than 900,000 square feet, and are set to be developed along State Road 52 and Interstate 75.
“Most people haven’t heard about them, but they’re coming. I’ve been told by the developer that they’re coming. They’re going to provide 600 to 800 jobs,” Oakley said.
People moving to the area for work are going to need places to live, of course.
That’s no problem, as the area continues to add to its residential options.
Oakley pointed to thousands of new homes that are underway, or will be, in large subdivisions in Zephyrhills, and in master-planned developments, including Mirada in San Antonio, and Connected City and WaterGrass in Wesley Chapel.
Oakley also highlighted some major transportation improvements.
Those projects include:
- Widening County Road 54
- Improving the intersection at State Road 54 and Eiland Boulevard/Morris Bridge Road
- Creating the diverging diamond at Interstate 75 and State Road 56
- Building a new interchange at I-75 and Overpass Road
- Realigning the intersection at U.S. 301/U.S. 98/Clinton Avenue
- Widening State Road 50, from North Pasco across the Hernando County line
- Paving projects on Eighth Avenue and on Jerome Road
Oakley underscored the significance of improving the roadways and transportation connections — in the quest to boost the region’s economy.
“You connect all these roads, and you look at the transportation value you have in the roads, and moving of people and products across our county, and with manufacturing and being able to move out from this area to other parts, and come into this area.
“Think about all the road projects, and if they get done. What a change that’ll be to our county and the way we move traffic,” the commissioner said.
In summation, the area’s complementary blend of infrastructure, industrial jobs and housing opportunities signal more positive economic times ahead for the region, Oakley reasoned.
“You’ve got everything that’s going to make this economy boom. You’re talking about a stimulus where, ‘You build and they’ll come.’ People are coming. People are coming from the north, from other areas into this area.
“It’s just amazing what’s going to happen in our area, and it’s a change. Think about three or four years down the road, how these things come about, so it’s great things to look forward to,” Oakley said.
He also pointed to the county’s efforts to reduce bureaucratic red tape that can hamper progress.
Besides being a commissioner, Oakley’s experience includes working in his family’s citrus and agriculture business with his brother and father, and serving as vice president of the family’s transportation company, Oakley Transport, which hauls liquid food commodities in stainless steel tanks.
He understands the need for government efficiency.
“I’ve had my hand in a lot of different businesses and all. I know what we don’t want to see when we go to get a permit, and what we do want to see is a happy face and, ‘Here’s how you get through the process.’ We try to streamline things and make things better for everyone,” Oakley said.
Published November 11, 2020
Just like COVID-19 has done with so many other industries, hospital and medical care systems also have needed to bob and weave, since the entire world changed around March.
AdventHealth Zephyrhills and AdventHealth Dade City president/CEO Amanda Maggard outlined the medical community’s COVID-10 response — and what the future may hold for the pair of East Pasco hospitals that are part of one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health care systems.
“It has definitely been an interesting year, hasn’t it? 2020 is a year I don’t think we’ll soon forget,” Maggard said, as the opening speaker at the Zephyrhills Economic Summit, held on Oct. 14.
The hospital administrator detailed many of the initial challenges when COVID-19 cases spiked in March, during the event organized by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, and convened at Zephyrhills City Hall.
A major issue involved procuring as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as possible.
“We have had a lot of PPE to serve, but COVID really escalated the amount and types of PPE that we needed,” the hospital executive said.
As a result, the hospital supply chain system has been forever altered. Now, it emphasizes partnerships on domestically produced PPE, while moving away from a just-in-time delivery model for such equipment and inventory, she explained.
In short, the pandemic offered “lessons learned” on how health care conglomerates handle and manage workforce, products, equipment and so on.
“We will never go back to operating our supply chain the way we did before COVID,” said Maggard, who’s had her role since 2017. “We have much more of an inventory across our system today than we did before, and that will stay.”
Since the pandemic touched down in the spring, hospitals have stopped many elective surgeries and procedures, including outpatient physical therapy.
Instead of laying off those employees, workers were re-deployed in any and every way possible. Some tasks included handling temperature checks, child care services, cafeteria and nutritional services, and even organizing fun activities for other team members, Maggard said.
“I’m so proud of the work that our team has done during this time,” she added.
Local hospitals are “continuing to learn and apply the latest clinical, evidence-based best practices, so we’re taking lessons from all of AdventHealth and around the country, and trying to apply those to make sure that we’re giving the best possible care to patients with COVID,” the hospital CEO said.
For example, the hospital is using Remdesivir, convalescent plasma therapy and “a number of other treatments, as we continue to learn and evolve,” Maggard said.
Remdesivir is a broad-spectrum antiviral medication; convalescent plasma therapy involves using blood from people who’ve recovered from an illness to help others recover.
Best practices to attack and treat COVID-19 have likewise involved ongoing learning because it began and still remains a relative unknown virus to the medical industry, Maggard said.
“We’ve been learning new things every day, and every week and every month,” she said, adding “guidance has changed, as the science has changed and evolved.”
The entire AdventHealth system actively monitors the volumes of COVID-19 cases throughout its various hospitals. The “biggest surge” of cases was seen in mid-July, Maggard said, adding: “It’s declined since then, (but) we saw a little bump up recently.”
Going forward, the hospital system is continuing its myriad health and safety protocols — such as markers on the floor to remind people to maintain six feet of social distance; temperature checks and screening everyone who enters the facilities every day; requiring masks; and regular deep cleanings throughout entire facilities, as well as other measures.
All patients who are COVID-19 positive, or suspected of being positive, are kept in a separate space — away from other patients — “to try to keep everyone safe,” she said.
Long-term health care consequences
A noteworthy consequence of the pandemic, Maggard said, is how many people have delayed routine or more serious health care issues — largely out of fear of going out to a public hospital or medical facility.
Between March and April, emergency rooms saw a 30% to 40% reduction in visits pertaining to heart attacks and strokes, Maggard said.
“The truth is, people were still having the same amount of heart attacks and strokes, but they were waiting and not coming to the ER,” Maggard said.
Because of those fear-driven consumer behavior changes, people who recently have been coming back to the hospital have more serious clinical issues, because they chose to delay care.
The same goes for routine screenings, primary care visits and procedures, such as colonoscopies, she added.
“My concern long-term with COVID is not just the immediate impact of COVID, but what is going to be the impact of health of folks around our country and around the world over the next few years, when we may have started to put off that routine care because we’re afraid to go be seen,” said Maggard.
“Don’t put your health care on hold. We want to continue to be here and not see your long-term health suffer because of not getting some of the screenings or preventative care that you may need today.
“If you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, you want to get into the hospital. We want to assure people that we are a safe place to be, we have a number of precautions in place to keep you safe, and we don’t want you to delay that care.”
Another related question is how newly jobless people will get their needed preventative services if they’ve been laid off and therefore lose their employer-sponsored health insurance.
“With the impact to the economy and the number of jobs being lost, what impact will that have in the coming 12 to 24 to 26 months?,” Maggard said.
Another looming question is how the hospital system’s financial losses amid the pandemic — due to postponing elective surgeries and decreased emergency room visits — will impact available capital in coming years. As a nonprofit, Maggard explained such capital would otherwise would be reinvested into the facilities for operating room expansions and technology and equipment upgrades to adequately serve in a growing community, such as East Pasco.
“There have been a number of financial losses,” Maggard said, “and that is something that we’re struggling with right now, is (how) our financial impact due to COVID is going to restrict the amount of capital we have available in these coming years,” she said.
Perhaps one of the positive developments in result of the pandemic is the increased accessibility and availability of telehealth services for physicians, primary care and even specialists.
Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies, allowing for long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions.
Simply, it allows patients to virtually see a physician or specialists without having to physically visit a hospital or medical office.
Telehealth, Maggard said, is “really, truly a positive thing in health care that could increase access for a number of folks.”
“That’s actually one of the really great things that has come out of COVID,” Maggard said. “The number of guidelines and allowances that came out from CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) are allowing more telehealth than we were able to do before, and we get reimbursed for that. I hope that’s something that stays out of COVID.”
Published November 04, 2020
Chambers of commerce representing the business communities in Zephyrhills and Dade City are beginning to explore the possibility of merging into a single chamber.
The boards for the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce have approved the formation of a task force to look into the logistics and possible benefits of merging the two organizations.
Melonie Monson, the CEO of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, and John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, recently told The Laker/Lutz News that it is unclear how long it will be before a merger, if one occurs, will happen.
“All we’re looking at is the opportunity to be able to put options on the table,” Moors said.
He explained why combining forces is being considered.
“(The) No. 1 reason is that we feel that a larger chamber — in my perspective, in any case — would better represent businesses in the eastern Pasco area,” Moors said.
“With the influx of residential, we know that commercial is following that, that this area continues to grow and grow and spread, as we’ve seen in Wesley Chapel. We’re not suggesting that’s a great thing. We’re not suggesting it’s not,” he said.
However, Moors added: “We would be better prepared as a chamber, to service our business members, if we were somewhat prepared for that growth.”
Monson noted: “We’ve seen successful mergers of other chambers in Pasco County and the strength that that can bring in numbers. So, we felt that this was the opportune time, to look at this more closely right now.”
She also noted that impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the timing of the discussion.
“With all that everyone is going through, due to the pandemic, we felt that it was time to revisit it,” Monson said.
The task force will be made up of people from both communities, including businesses and larger organizations.
The task force also will consider potential obstacles, as well as how to preserve the identities of each community, if a merger occurs, she added.
It also will explore: “Is this something we need to do?” she added.
Zephyrhills is among the largest municipalities in the county, if not the largest municipality, and Dade City is the county seat, Monson said.
Does it make sense to join forces to come together with one voice for advocacy and economic development, she asked.
Once the task force completes its due diligence, it will bring a recommendation to the boards.
Input from members will be sought, too, she said.
Moors said he has no speculation of the future structure of the chamber because that would come out of the task force.
“There’s really nothing for sure. All we’re really doing is forming a task force and looking at the combination, and at what best practices there might be, in a joint chamber,” he said.
One question that will be asked is: “What should the focus of the organization be?” Moors said.
The effort is being made to make sure the chambers are doing the best they can to remain sustainable and continue serving their members, he said.
Besides creating a more powerful voice, by merging memberships, there also might be a reduction in overhead, both chamber leaders said.
“There’s an economy of scale,” Moors said. “If there’s an opportunity to be able to maximize their economies of scale, then in most cases, businesses will do that. It’s only good fiduciary responsibility,” Moors said.
“Primarily, people join a chamber of commerce because they want to network and they want to interact with people of like minds, from a business perspective. And, they want to have a voice in initiatives that are moving forward in their area both from a political point of view and from business associations, and that sort of thing,” Moors said.
Work is expected to get started on naming a task force and studying the issues, Monson said.
It’s hard to say how quickly that work will be done, the recommendations will be made and whether the chambers will decide to move forward with a merger — or drop the idea.
A merger between the Zephyrhills and Dade City chambers would be the third merger of its type among Pasco County chambers.
The North Tampa Bay Chamber is made up of chambers that previously represented Wesley Chapel, New Tampa, Trinity and Odessa.
The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce resulted from a merger between the West Pasco and Central Pasco chambers.
Published October 07, 2020
Small businesses are struggling to reopen amid the uncertainties wrought by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Chambers of commerce are right there with them on the front line.
They are dealing with staff layoffs in some cases. They’ve been working from home. They have fewer resources.
And, even as chambers begin reopening their offices, the priority is the economic recovery of member businesses.
Ribbon cuttings, for a while, are on hold.
“We had to pivot,” said Hope Kennedy, president of The North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
From Day One of the shutdown, there was an urgency to how chambers should respond. They had to rethink what it means to network and provide services that would help businesses stay solvent and resilient.
To be sure, there were phone calls. Lots of them.
But, the new virtual world meant rethinking social media and technology. Zoom meetings and virtual town halls blossomed.
Websites became clearinghouses for grants and forgivable loans, and the latest information businesses needed to survive, and now to reopen, safely.
“We’ve done a lot of individual communicating with our members,” Kennedy said.
Initially, the focus was on helping business owners apply for financial aid, either locally or from the federal Payroll Protection Program.
Chambers partnered with Pasco County and the Pasco Economic Development Council to coordinate efforts to deliver financial aid to distressed businesses and residents.
Kennedy heard from business owners who told her, “if we had not had all this information on our website, they wouldn’t have gotten them.”
As businesses reopen, she added, “We’ve turned into a repository for businesses that need to rehire.”
Chambers are taking one step at a time, as lights turn back on at businesses.
“Cautiously optimistic is what we are,” said Melanie Monson, executive director of The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
She believes people are following the protocols to make sure the situation does not get worse.
As the shutdown approached, Monson said her staff checked in with business owners to prepare them.
About 100 business owners needed to create plans to get through the crisis and to guide them once reopened.
“Most are prepared and ready to jump back in,” Monson said. “Are there going to be some who don’t open doors? Absolutely.”
But, she added, “I feel like there is enough help that businesses will recover. It will take a while. We’re optimistic that we’ll make it through the process. It’s not a light switch. It’s going to take a little bit of a process. Businesses in it for the long haul will make it.”
Like the businesses they serve, chambers also are reopening — slowly and with safety protocols.
The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce started with one person each day at the office, behind a locked door. Visitors needed to wear masks, as did employees. Social distancing was required. Within the next weeks, the chamber anticipates “ramping up a little,” said John Moors, chamber executive director.
During the shutdown, work continued from home to keep business owners up to date on available aid and resources.
Renewal rates on memberships were discounted, and e-blasts and advertising were provided free, Moors said.
“It’s important that we bring connectivity and continue to offer support for our businesses,” he said. “We are resilient, very creative. We’ll figure this thing out.”
Pasco County and cities, such as Dade City, did their part.
Dade City officials, for instance, sent out fliers to 6,000 households about products and services available from area businesses.
The city also relaxed requirements for outdoor seating to allow restaurants to serve more customers.
Dade City, and its chamber, thrive on annual events including a seminar at Saint Leo University and a golf tournament.
The fate of the chamber’s biggest event of the year – the Kumquat Festival – is unclear, even though it typically is held in February.
“We’re not sure it’s going on the same as it has been,” Moors said.
The festival is the chamber’s most reliable fundraising event, bringing thousands into downtown Dade City.
North Tampa Bay chamber scheduled a movie night for May 16, featuring “Jumanji – Next Level” at The Groves at Wesley Chapel. Sponsorships made the showing possible.
Every chamber is facing budget losses. And, even as chambers helped its members file for financial aid, nothing similar was available for chambers.
If more aid is approved by Congress, Kennedy hopes to see the chambers included this time.
“We’ve been advocates for that from Day One,” she said. She has spoken with Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis. “There’s been a little bit of traction the last couple of days,” she said.
Kelly Marsh, member care specialist for The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce, agrees that chambers need help, too.
“Fingers crossed on that,” she said.
Last week, the chamber hosted a Zoom meeting for a Land O’ Lakes Brochure Exchange. Owners could virtually promote their services and find out what other owners are doing.
“It hasn’t been as easy to reach people,” said Marsh. Social media and technology are taking on larger roles in networking, she said.
There is a concern especially for the ‘mom and pop’ shops and restaurants, and the toll the long shutdown took on their incomes.
It appears that most people are just “trying to get through it (the pandemic),” she said.
Published May 20, 2020