Guest column by Dale Brill, Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation

As Florida’s Deepwater Horizon crisis continues to unfold, a postmortem evaluation suggests that the power and strength of a unified effort should be revisited by many who have cast aside lessons learned from history, be it five or 500 years past.

Business Speak Guest Column by Dale Brill, Ph.D. Originally published in the Aug/Sep 2010 issue of 850 Magazine


Time to Stand Together

As Florida’s Deepwater Horizon crisis continues to unfold, a postmortem evaluation suggests that the power and strength of a unified effort should be revisited by many who have cast aside lessons learned from history, be it five or 500 years past.

Thought by many to be the ultimate political strategist, Machiavelli warned in 1532 that “I do not believe that factions can ever be of use; rather it is certain that when the enemy comes upon you in divided cities you are quickly lost.” There is much to be relearned about the costs of division.

First, let’s acknowledge what is at stake. According to Dun & Bradstreet’s preliminary analysis, the oil spill has the potential to affect approximately 1.25 million businesses in Florida located in the 23 counties along the Gulf Coast. They employ 28 percent of the state’s work force — approximately 3.65 million Floridians. That’s the equivalent of Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium filled to capacity more than 44 times.

But sometimes it is an understatement that best portrays reality. Standing on the coastline back in June with just the early signs of oil covering Pensacola Beach, one Floridian put her head in her hands and cried, “This is just awful.” Her simple expression of grief accurately captured and generously shared the sense of loss that pie charts and line graphs cannot.

Early and justified criticism aimed at BP pointed to a lack of transparency and quickly moved to focus on failed efforts to stop or contain the flow of oil pouring into our waters. And, like the oil, the poison of vilification rapidly made its way across the Gulf Coast to Florida.

Signs of partitioning first emerged when criticism of the state’s tourism marketing efforts leading up to Memorial Day made headlines, and not without reason. The natural, yet unrealized, fear was that a financial disaster was imminent in the absence of a significant advertising push to market Northwest Florida’s pristine beaches.

Post-holiday reports from Escambia County indicate that bed-tax collections jumped 13 percent in May compared to the year before. This happened, however, without the substantial marketing campaign launching prior to Memorial Day weekend. Reports show a more modest return in other coastline counties at other corners of our state. Lee County saw a 6 percent increase in its May bed-tax collections compared to last year. Brevard County was up 8 percent.

Yet even before the oil could ruin the sugar-white beaches and the tourism industry that is inextricably linked to them, the real damage was already done. The mighty tourism confederation led by Visit Florida and its thousands of partners — proven effective following the Sept. 11 tragedies and again in the wake of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes — began to collapse.

Local tourism-development councils, convention and visitors bureaus and others within the state’s travel industry fought for portions of the $25 million secured from BP. Unlike any crisis response since its creation, tourism-recovery marketing funds were allocated only in part to Visit Florida, which holds the unique position as the state’s statutorily authorized tourism-industry marketing corporation. The balance of funds went directly to other groups, with no visible attempt to coordinate efforts.

Those familiar with biblical instruction may recognize these words from the book of Matthew: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” And students of the Civil War recall Abraham Lincoln invoking these words in warning his colleagues of the imminent dangers the weakened Union faced as it wrestled with slavery: “A house divided against itself cannot stand … I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”

Division and acrimony are the precursors of defeat in the face of adversity. We must reject them both, and invest in the institutions and programs that with unified support have proven successful. Should they fail in performance under the full and transparent judgment of the facts, swift and corrective action is justified. In the meantime, the clear lesson of history, well beyond the microcosm of the Sunshine State’s tourism industry, is that we will either stand together as a Florida stronger and wiser as a result of our collective history, or collapse divided in the gulf of fragmented and selfish pursuits.



Brill is the president of the Florida Chamber Foundation. Previously he’s served as the director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development and chief marketing officer for VISIT FLORIDA.