Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll took a walking tour of downtown Pensacola on Sunday, stopping at a variety of local businesses and speaking to their owners about the area's growth over the past several years.
"I'm visiting downtown Pensacola to get a first-hand knowledge of the revitalization of the area and how it came about," Carroll said.
"Lots of our cities across the state of Florida want to revitalize their downtown area because they understand that people have moved away to suburban areas, and now they need to bring some life and inject it into downtown, because as downtown goes, the economy goes as well," she said.
Carroll, who is in town for today's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, was accompanied by Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer and several members of the Downtown Improvement Board.
During her tour, Carroll visited roughly a dozen businesses on or near Palafox Street, asking owners what their businesses entailed, how their businesses were faring, why they were drawn to the area and what strategies they were using to build their businesses.
"We have the highest downtown occupancy percentage in the state of Florida," said Sandra Ward, executive director of the D.I.B. "She wanted to know what we were doing here that has made us so successful."
The responses business owners gave were varied, but some common themes were that each had identified a unique need that was not being served, came into the area with a realistic and sustainable business model, and most importantly, partnered with other business owners to create a mutually beneficial, non-competitive environment.
"It's basically because we are all working together," Ward said.
Carroll repeatedly complimented the cooperative relationship among the private sector, public sector and business owners.
"Collaboration, that helps move mountains," she said. "Typically in the past, what areas have tried to do, whether it's the outskirts or in town, is try to do it alone.
"You're sharing the wealth, you're sharing the experience, and you're sharing the development," she said of Pensacola businesses. "It's generating a new resurgence, an excitement and a synergy that hasn't been seen in a while."
Carroll is no stranger to Pensacola. The retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander was stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1986, and said she was impressed with the growth the area has experienced.
"It's a huge difference," she said. "It was like a small town environment. To see the advancement and the diversity of the business entities, and what's also neat is to see the diversity of the business owners. To see so many female business owners in one section of the state is really refreshing. That lets me know that the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded here."
During the tour, Carroll met with female business owners such as Maria Goldberg, director of marketing for the Great Southern Restaurant Group, Adonna Zehr, owner of Adonna's Bakery and Cafe, and Ashley Dickerson, owner of the Spotted Dog Boutique.
Carroll also met Joe Abston and Nick Zangari, owners of Hopjack's and New York Nick's respectively. She also spoke with Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer about the team and Studer's plan to help fund a new YMCA in the at the Community Maritime Park.
"She invited them to be very straightforward with how and why are they succeeding today, and also she wanted to know what needed to be done for their growth in the future," Spencer said of Carroll's talks with the business owners.
Carroll said she was going to take the information she had gained and pass it along to others.
"I'm going to go out and share this good news across the state as well, and with the governor, and with our economic development and opportunity office.
Carroll said she would speak with policy makers to, "See how the state can partner even more to help enhance what's happening here in Pensacola, to grow the business, to grow the foot traffic and to come in and grow others to see this as an attractive place to open up their business."
"You have a great story here, and I want to tell it," she said.
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