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Chambers, Challenges, and Charities

By David Waddle, Brian Haugen, and Steve Cann

During a recent lunch meeting, Lisa Burwell, owner and publisher of VIE – People + Places, said that she would like to hear some viewpoints from my unique perspective; this past year, I have served simultaneously as a Chamber of Commerce chairman, a charity board president, and a financial advisor. Those experiences allowed me to develop some remarkable insights.

In 2010, I was honored to be elected Chairman of the Board for the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. Since the chamber runs like a finely tuned watch, I anticipated (and hoped) that my involvement would be negligible. So much for the best-laid plans. Just as it appeared that our summer could turn the tides of our fragile, but hopeful, economy for the better, the worst oil disaster in the history of the Gulf of Mexico blackened our dreams. It turns out that the only boom we ended up seeing was in the form of an oil boom. No amount of dispersant sprayed on the slicks (which thankfully did not really affect are beaches) could prevent our tourists from changing their vacation plans and, with that, our hopes for a robust and prosperous summer were dashed. As the media hype dissipated, it turned out that there were fewer tar balls than tourists. Although the damage was done, our local promotional creativity wasn’t dead just yet.


This summer, there were more than just rock concerts on the beach bringing people together along the Emerald Coast. They came here to find synergy … in business, marketing, and advertising. One example came from within the Destin and Walton County Chambers. A first for these chambers, they agreed to cosponsor each other’s largest annual events: the Destin Seafood Festival and the Walton Leadership Summit. It was refreshing to see each chamber’s logo prominently featured as a sponsor of the other’s event. I think it speaks to the concept of synergy. Locals doing business with locals picked up in other areas as well.


With difficulty comes opportunity. As a local financial advisor, I’ve seen entrepreneurs seeking new endeavors by becoming involved in innovative businesses along the Emerald Coast. One of the largest areas of increased commerce has been in what’s called “cottage” businesses. Those are small technology-driven companies which, theoretically, can operate from any place that provides the required technology. Why not work and live along the Emerald Coast?!

This exact topic was discussed at length at two events this summer: the Destin Economic Summit and the visit from the International Economic Development Council. Both forums were designed to identify ways to jump-start our economy, and both came to similar conclusions—one common proposal was to market technology-based businesses. Business as usual isn’t enough anymore. Diversity of the economic base is necessary. With that, I feel that our city councils, chambers of commerce, and county commissions are aligning better to meet the needs for expansion of our economy. Here again, insatiability leads to humility, humility leads to synergy, and synergy leads to new endeavors.


Lastly, regarding charities, it’s interesting to note how tough times can bring out the best in people. As you may be familiar, my wife and I lost our son two years ago to a tragic football accident, and we established a charitable foundation in his name. Beginning a new charitable organization is a challenge in even a good economy, but, in a bad one—well, it’s exigent, to say the least. But there were some surprising facets to this story as well. It seems that philanthropic people maintain their philanthropy through tough times. Sure, most donors cut back on their donations, but they remain drawn to the causes in which they believe. It’s a beautiful thing, really—seeing charitable people coming through in tough times. To my way of thinking, they are the blessed. The Taylor Haugen Foundation has flourished because of those people, and I, for one, am thankful. Perhaps it means more to donate when we have less to give.

My dad used to say, “Brian, never confuse ‘genius’ with a bull market.” No truer words were ever spoken. Perhaps many of us felt blessed with a dose of “genius” during the recent economic heyday. How quickly those feelings can be dashed and replaced with a more genuine dose of humility. Humility isn’t such a bad thing sometimes, and can even make us better people. There’s a book that speaks of this, with certain passages written about men like Jonah, David, and Job. Locally, it appears that our humble economic times may well reshape our collective wisdom and lead us into new prosperous endeavors.

In summary, perhaps this dreary economic cycle does, indeed, have a silver lining. I caught glimpses of it this past year myself. In many ways, these difficult times have brought out the best in people and may very well be seen within our local chambers, the charities, and our economic challenges. Let’s keep it up in 2011!


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