The Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce rolled out plans for their Red Carpet Tour to the city council Tuesday night along with a request for matching funds to launch the program.

Chamber CEO Daniel Samess said the program was designed in response to his board of directors’ request to address an increasing inventory of vacant commercial space within the city limits.

The committee’s research totaled more than 180,000 sq. ft. of commercial space that currently sits vacant.

The Red Carpet Tour is designed to seek out and entice businesses to launch, expand or relocate to the Middle Keys.

The city’s investment in the program, Samess explained, would help the Marathon community by creating jobs and increasing tax revenues.

He called the development of the program “really eye-opening.”

“We really do have one of the lowest millage rates in Florida,” Samess said. “Why not move your business down here to live and work in paradise?”

Tangible facets of the program include an informative brochure and DVD showcasing the city’s highlights. The brochure includes a comparative analysis housing costs, municipal taxes and insurance costs of major Florida cities like Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale as well as Provincetown, Mass., a northeastern coastal city with a population comparable to Marathon.

“Much of our tourism and people relocating are from the Northeast, so we wanted to show the disparity between us and them and how much money they can save in taxes and other associated costs if they relocate their business here,” Samess elaborated.

Red Carpet Tour organizers said they hoped to identify existing profitable businesses in other markets that would make good neighbors and provide a needed service to the community.

Information Technology firms and Financial and Investment businesses require minimal commercial space and can operate on a global level.

Marathon provides a perfect setting for research and development of green and alternative energy firms. Several grants and funding streams are currently encouraging these types of businesses, so survival rates for those businesses would be greater here.

Heeding the advice of the council in past discussions, the Red Carpet Tour also plans to recruit businesses that enhance Marathon’s economic foundation – tourism.

By attending trade shows and business expos across the country, Samess said the city would have national exposure and an opportunity to really market the community’s assets.

“I agree that old fashioned hand shaking, word-of-mouth advertising will always prove the most effective means of marketing, so we’d like to have booth space at various national and international trade shows to market our community,” he explained.

One of the community’s main selling points, he continued, is the quality of life that Marathon is able to offer transplant businesses.

Councilman Dick Ramsay applauded the group’s efforts, adding that he and the city’s finance director Peter Rosasco are coordinating a meeting with “high-ranking customs officials” for a guided tour of the city in the coming months.

“Since the Chamber’s willing to put their money where their mouth is, I support you guys and think it’s a great program,” Ramsay said.

Samess laid out a $20,000 budget that includes website construction and maintenance, creation of marketing materials, trade show set-up, participation and travel and recruitment, which would include hosting qualified businesses by flying them to the Keys and housing them during their visit.

City Manager Roger Hernstadt confirmed there was money available in contingency funds to support the program, and the Chamber pledged half of the budget, adding they would establish a separate bank account and provide regular reports to the council on the program’s progress.

“Thank you for being conscious with taxpayer money,” Mayor Ginger Snead applauded prior to the council’s unanimous pledge of support.

In other business:
• City staff announced the launch of the new online permitting program available through the city’s website at “As far as I know, we are the only community in the Keys that has effective online permitting,” Ramsay said.

• An apparent misunderstanding resulted in a delayed update from the Peebles Corporation, who owns the vacant Ramada Inn. Planning director George Garrett said though the property is currently in receivership, they will likely be approaching the council requesting a letter for the property’s lender. “They were supposed to be in attendance this evening, but a misunderstanding on Barron Channer’s (Peebles Vice President) part had him here next week,” Garrett told the council. “He proposes to be here Feb. 23.”

• Council approved a new appointment system for Code Board and Planning Commission seats with which council members will have the opportunity to appoint a representative of their choice whose seat will run the term of the council member’s term.


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