A new study suggests professional associations have a very big impact on Florida’s economy. And, since so many of those associations are headquartered around the State Capitol, much of that economic impact is centered in Tallahassee.
The study was prepared by Downs and St. Germain Research, itself a Tallahassee-based company. It was commissioned by the Florida Society of Association Executives whose current chair is Vicki Long. Her regular job is executive vice president of AIA Florida, the state branch of the American Institute of Architects.
“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in this state that associations represent about $3.5 billion in economic impact every year. It’s an amazing story!” she remarked.
Anyone who wanders through downtown Tallahassee may start to get some understanding of that story. Where once retail storefronts stood are now dozens of association headquarters. And Long said there’s one very compelling reason why they’re there.
“Well you know, Tallahassee used to be considered a company town with the company being the legislative process or the government center. But I’d say to you that if we’re going to be a company town, it might be that we’re a company town for associations because of the preponderance and the centralization of the groups that are here.”
The simple reason, chimed in the society’s President and CEO Frank Rudd, is that all those groups need to stay in close proximity to state government; especially the Legislature.
“People like Vicki with the Architects, the engineers, the medical people with all their information, they need to take it to the Capitol and show them what power we have in the associations and the power they bring and get their foot in the door and let them know what’s going on in Florida with the associations,” Rudd pointed out.
When there’s an issue before the legislature that impacts an association’s membership, Long said that typically brings a lot of people to Tallahassee who go on to spend money at local hotels and restaurants.
“Part of that travel that you see in this economic report is not even indicated as far as our members coming up here on their own expense coming up to speak before the Legislature,” she explained.
And then there are the periodic membership meetings that many associations host. That is something, said Rudd, that just can’t be done effectively with today’s electronic meeting technology.
“Webinars, the on-line learning stuff is great, but these people still want to see each other and I think that’s what really helps keep associations relevant that they still want to get together with people who have common interests.”
The bottom line, Long said, is that associations are for the most part, little businesses with a giant impact.
“We’re all small businesses and we might have anywhere from 1 to 12 employees on average. But the fact of the matter is we’re hiring IT people, advocacy folks, PR firms, and a whole lot of other small business participants, so it’s beyond the numbers that you see in the economic impact report.”
As of last month, the Internal Revenue Service pegged the number of associations headquartered in Florida as just under 2,900, with a significant chunck of that number with either primary or satellite offices in Tallahassee.