As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild in the Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Giuliani.
Tim Giuliani is the president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership (the Partnership), which is an economic and community development organization representing Central Florida’s seven counties — Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia — as well as the City of Orlando. The Partnership includes the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce (America’s largest leadership program), Orlando Tech Council, Leadership Orlando and the Orlando Film Commission.
Giuliani manages the strategic direction of the organization, which focuses on a holistic approach to broad-based prosperity. Its initiatives include economic development, advocacy and public policy, advancing transportation solutions and branding the Orlando region as a great place to do business.
Giuliani is a Certified Chamber Executive and has served on the executive committee for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and the board of directors of the Florida Research Consortium. He has also been involved with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Council on Small Business and currently sits on the advisory board for the Central Florida Sports Commission and as an ex-officio member of the board of directors at Visit Orlando.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Mypassion to provoke social change started at an early age when I helped launch the “Truth Initiative” as a high school student. The campaign targeted Big Tobacco and its, at the time, unchallenged marketing tactics. The campaign was wildly successful and captured the attention of our whole nation, igniting a movement. This resulted in a dramatic drop in youth smoking rates that have continued to decline to this day. My involvement with that campaign really inspired me to pursue a career in public affairs where I knew I could have a direct impact on local communities and advocate for causes that are important to me, as well as many others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Earlier in my career, when I led the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, we held an annual event that was well attended by the business community and elected leaders. I recall badly mispronouncing the name of an important city council member to the point of giving her an unsavory last name. It taught me the importance of reviewing your speech, practicing it several times and being sure to know your content and your audience. I’m sure I was harder on myself than anyone else, but at the time, it felt extremely uncomfortable.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton, the chairman of Gallup, is an important read for any executive. It highlights the talent war being waged across the globe as cities and countries try to produce the best jobs. He argues that many leaders are getting it wrong by undercutting entrepreneurs, running companies with depressed workers and not putting enough focus on education and the next generation of talent. This book gave me a clearer understanding of why creating innovative economic development strategies and making job creation a goal for elected leaders is critical to our success. By creating good jobs for the Orlando region, we can bring prosperity and inclusive growth.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The Partnership’s vision is to advance broad-based prosperity by laying the foundation for collective leadership that injects fresh resources and perspectives as we continue to grow the Orlando economy. We aim to bring together the power of the Partnership with the influence of the Orlando business community’s top leaders, not only to harness the strength of our region’s culture of collaboration and innovation, but also to create more equal opportunity.
For example, last summer the Partnership launched a diversity, equity and inclusion pledge for companies to sign and publicly commit themselves to advance racial and social justice initiatives, cultivate economic equality, remove barriers to growth opportunities and promote inclusive discourse. Over 100 local companies have signed this pledge and our team continues to share resources to bolster that commitment, including a recently published business toolkit designed to guide these organizations and members of their team for a 90-day period following their initial commitment.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The Golden Rule to ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is a guiding principle in life and certainly in business. The way to treat your staff, partners, clients and investors reflects on who you are as a person and how you can exceed expectations from a business perspective.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
It was difficult not being able to see parents and grandparents, not only for me, but for my wife and three children, as I know it was for so many people. We searched for ways to stay connected and we found that playing games online was a way to relieve stress and enjoy time with loved ones; it also gave, especially the kids, something to look forward to. At the same time, learning online was a challenge for our two youngest kids, so keeping them engaged with hands-on, interactive lessons was key to getting them off the computer. We had to be creative and find different ways for them to learn that didn’t involve a screen for seven hours a day. Big kudos for my wife, Sarah, who is a former teacher and has her Ph.D. in literacy and language development.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges Orlando, as well as many other cities, has faced over the course of this pandemic was making sure our community’s essential businesses were able to stay afloat. The pandemic highlighted the fact that these businesses really serve as the heart of our community, and we worked especially hard to ensure our platform was open to support them in positive, meaningful ways. We launched a new COVID-related website to provide resources and tools to the business community. We created a social media campaign called #PickUpOrlando to support local businesses, large and small, that continued to provide essential services during the pandemic. And we trained “ambassadors” for the Business Recovery Assistance and Collaborative Engagement (or BRACE) program. We helped more than 800 businesses so far by walking them through the many grant and loan programs available. We have seen great results.
While serving the needs of our business community, we also had to remember that, even in a pandemic, our mission is to grow our business community, working with companies that want to start, expand or relocate their businesses to what remains one of the fastest-growing markets in the country. Our team never missed a step, and we’re seeing the results as more and more companies announce plans to make Orlando their home.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Stress was a real challenge as we all tried to reframe our lives, adjust to staying at home and not doing many of the things we really enjoy and love. For me, the constant onslaught of negative news was a source of stress, and I made a conscious decision to significantly reduce the amount of cable news I, and those in my household, was watching. From the political landscape, the assault on the Capitol, to the daily updates on COVID-related deaths, it became too much in addition to everything else that was going on. I have three children so keeping them focused on their education and just being able to be kids was important. I started to listen to more National Public Radio and watch our local news. Overall, I found it more productive to focus on my family, my work and my community — all places where I could make a real difference.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Recently, we’ve seen an increase in the number of companies that have selected or moved to Orlando — thanks to our affordable cost of living, abundant and highly skilled workforce, and focus on all-in support — and we expect to continue to build on that momentum in the pandemic’s wake. When most people think of Orlando, they probably think of our globally recognized travel and tourism industry, but the true magic in our recovery efforts has been fueled by the much larger segment of our economy where we are powering driverless cars, investing in a privately funded high-speed rail, launching vertical-takeoff electric jets at the nation’s first air-taxi hub, and welcoming fintech companies like KPMG and Deloitte that are drawn to our region’s abundant talent pool (which is bolstered by the nation’s largest population of higher education students).
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
In addition to an increase in businesses relocating to our region, the COVID-19 pandemic will permanently change the way we recruit and retain talent in Orlando. Few other markets come close to our pool of 550,000 higher education students within a 100-mile radius; furthermore, we are surrounded by 35 universities and colleges, making our region’s workforce even more educated, skilled and diverse. The pandemic has reminded us that our region’s talent recruitment and retention efforts start with us at the Partnership and with the resources we provide. Finding the right talent is key for most businesses’ success and, ultimately, the success of our region. That’s why the Partnership and Skillful launched a collaboration at the end of 2020 to help employers in our region hire more effectively in the post-COVID era and create more opportunities for jobseekers by providing training in different skills-based practices.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
In Orlando, we’ve always believed we are better when we all share our success; so much so, that we are the only market in the country that has acted on and trademarked the term “broad-based prosperity.” As our region continues to rebuild in the post-COVID era, we will attract new business to our region with partnerships that further diversify our economy and present new opportunities for collaboration. Orlando was a mecca for investment in 2020, ranking as the №1 metro area for such activity in the U.S. (GoBankingRates) — based on job growth, population growth and average annual increases in home values — and it is important for us to continue building on that success.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
As our region continues to rebuild in the post-COVID economy, I would encourage our local business leaders to continue to lead with broad-based prosperity in mind and identify opportunities for homegrown collaboration. At the height of the pandemic, we saw many local organizations pivoting and working together to ensure our residents, employees and visitors were safe. A great example is when commercial real estate company Acre Commercial launched a campaign to help small businesses by leveraging its social media pages to promote their local customers, all while keeping their own operations afloat. That type of collaborative thinking and teamwork is what sets us apart from other regions, and I’d love to see even more of that in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be on the right side of gravity,” which I heard from Steve Ballmer as he gave a speech. With all the change that abounds everywhere, I’ve learned to find opportunities in where things are headed. These environments are full of growth and opportunity, and need creative people to fulfill the potential. I see Orlando in this light and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can be part of helping the region realize its full potential.
How can our readers further follow your work?
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