Key West Chamber changes hands - A man holding a sign in front of a fence - M-tree

Scott Atwell recently returned to his hometown of Key West to lead the Key West Chamber of Commerce. With a resume that includes leading the Florida State University alumni association, consulting and television sportscasting, Atwell brings unique skills to the business organization and recently spent some time with the Key West Weekly. 

How should a chamber of commerce in a tourism-dependent town be adapting its role and function to remain relevant in today’s world? I see volunteers who are highly engaged and receiving value from their chamber relationship. We’re doing a lot of great things to help business, but also things that help the community at large and I think we should think about tinkering with how we articulate that impact as part of a larger communications strategy.

It doesn’t matter who signs your paycheck, that employer is impacted in some positive way by tourism. Even if you’re retired, you would not have critical services at your disposal if tourism weren’t here to support those services. There’s a sweet spot where the economic ecosystem is perfectly balanced, and the chamber is committed to helping our community find that balance.

What do you see as some of the Chamber’s best past/existing programs and achievements? Keeping an eye on government has been a hallmark of Virginia’s tenure and for every one issue you know about there are ten others about which you are not aware. She’s been a true public servant and tireless in her pursuit of the fairness for the citizens of the Florida Keys.

And what are some of your plans and priorities as we move ahead? You’ll probably see new communications strategies that elevate the chamber’s reputation in the community.

Your predecessor was one of the most outspoken and recognizable personalities in Key West for the past 30-some years. What can people expect in terms of the changes or shifts in the chamber’s activities, priorities and/or programs? I can’t replace Virginia — that’s impossible — so I’ll focus on things that I’m good at. 

You were the only job applicant who included a business plan for the Chamber with your application. What does that plan involve? I spent the past year as a consultant traveling the country and working with clients to improve their alumni organizations, which are structured very similarly to chambers of commerce. As a consultant, one of the first things you must do is consume a great deal of information — we call it an environmental scan — in order to understand organizational challenges and opportunities. In my business plan I spent a lot of time outlining that process and blending it with research I conducted on chamber success stories, painting a picture of what we could do to take a successful chamber to the next level.

How do you see your role as the organization’s top executive? The board of directors, as representatives of membership, decides where they want to take the organization and my job is to make sure the ship reaches its destination.

The chamber board recently expressed strong opposition to the marine sanctuary’s proposed changes. How involved in local issues do you expect the board and the organization to be? Used judiciously, this kind of activism can be quite effective and I think that’s what we have seen in the wake of the board’s resolution. The chamber board represents many of the largest employers in Monroe County so it’s sort of like E.F. Hutton: When the chamber speaks, people listen.

Any plans to respond to the recent upset over the New York Times’ “doom-and-gloom” story about sea level rise? I’m anxious to better understand the board’s point of view on this issue. The Atwells have a plot at the City Cemetery and I have every intention of being buried there, so I have a very long-term interest in how this turns out.

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