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MARTIN COUNTY – The respective directors of both the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce and the Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce attribute the area’s economic growth and their growing membership lists to a more business friendly climate in local government over the last couple of years.

Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Catrambone said his organization had an extremely successful and productive year.

“Our membership numbers were ahead of 2017, our retention rate is improved and our events were ahead of budgeted revenue,” he said. “Speaking for our members, the consensus was 2018 was excellent and exceeded 2017. Depending on a strong economy, we will exceed 2018.”

The Stuart/Martin County Chamber is now averaging approximately 25 new members a month, and Mr. Catrambone said his “sales staff is optimistic that will continue through 2019 if the economy in general stays strong.” The Stuart/Martin Chamber president lauded local governing officials for a progressively more pro-business stance.

“I must say the Stuart City Commission is and has been a pleasure to work with, especially concerning economic growth,” Mr. Catrambone added. “Over the years, they have streamlined the permitting process and welcomed economic growth. Currently we have a very business-minded County Commission and are working with them to determine if they can also streamline the process. We’re optimistic because they are at least willing to meet and discuss our concerns, unlike many previous commissioners.”

His northern county counterpart, President and CEO of the Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce Ron Rose, concurs.

“The Jensen Beach business community is thrilled that we have a business-friendly County Commission in Martin County,” he said. “There is great optimism for a prosperous 2019. With the expansion and development of the Ocean Breeze Resort in the Town of Ocean Breeze, there will be a noticeable increase in new customers. The new hotel on Hutchinson Island, Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa, has increased tourism significantly. Also, the opening of Carmax in May 2018 -- the first major auto dealership in Jensen Beach -- has attracted people from throughout the Treasure Coast.”

Membership in the Jensen Beach Chamber is thriving on a par with its south county counterpart.

“The Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce had a record-breaking year for new members,” Mr. Rose emphasized. “Our membership increased by 27 percent in 2018, and we have had six new members so far in 2019. We expect our Chamber business membership to increase significantly this year and look forward to the Jensen Beach Tech Center and the many high-tech jobs it will produce.”

While Mr. Rose believes the local governing boards need to “continue with a business-friendly agenda and pro-business taxes and incentives” in order to see continued economic prosperity in 2019, Mr. Catrambone insists there is still more work to be done to foment a better business climate in Martin County.

“Economic growth occurs from within existing industry rather than externally,” he explained. “We need to help locals grow their businesses by expanding when needed, not put stumbling blocks in their way. Our permitting process in many instances is convoluted. Our city and county commissioners should legislate in favor of economic expansion, not against it.  We’ve come a long way in that respect and continue to work with them to make it a win-win situation for both.”

The Hometown News was unable to include a comment from the Business Development Board of Martin County due to the abrupt resignation of its Executive Director Tim Dougher on Jan. 9. A member of his staff did submit a copy of the organization’s 2017-2018 Annual Report published last June on data reported through April 30 and admitted “there was not much to report at that time.” The report did detail BDB efforts through that time period and described in detail its Business Accelerator Program, a 12-week classroom curriculum administered by Indian River State College and its Corporate Community Training Institute. As of last spring, 37 Martin entrepreneurs had been invited to participate in the program. Six of them -- Guyton’s Custom Designs, Tara Biek Creative, Skin Serenity Spa, Clay Space, Pilates and Your Palate and Pleasant Plates -- won grants up to $5,000 to purchase equipment, inventory, software and other materials.

IRSC Chastain Campus Provost Beth Gaskin lauded the collaborative effort.

“The BAP program will help educate entrepreneurs in Martin County on basic skills needed to run their businesses,” she stated in the report. “The partnership with the BDBMC on the program further articulates IRSC commitment to economic development in Martin County.”

Other data in the report showed that between the BDB 2017-18 contractual year, 78 percent of the county’s businesses demonstrated growth due to the improved economy, and 25 percent of those businesses planned on expanding in the near future.

Mr. Catrambone believes the incorporation of Indiantown in late 2017 is now setting the stage for an even larger growth spurt in 2019.

“We believe the recent incorporation of Indiantown gives Martin County a great opportunity to expand our economic base,” he said. “There is zoning in place to accommodate all types of industry and thousands of acres available to host almost any industry. There is an eagerness of the leadership to grow their population and expand the economic base. Everything is in place for them to continue being the economic tax base of Martin County.”

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