Mike Gallagher takes over the chairmanship of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce at a time when the business organization has better relations with local government and higher education.
"My belief is where a few years ago the Chamber and others in this community have not been as aligned, today I think we've crossed all those bridges and are much more synergistic and collaborative in our respective agendas for the benefit of Alachua County and the city of Gainesville," said Gallagher, president and CEO of SantaFe HealthCare Companies.
A lot of those bridges were built when the Chamber involved a broad cross-section of the community in its economic development planning process that produced Innovation Gainesville.
Gallagher points to the University of Florida Innovation Hub as a prime example of IG's goal of harnessing the area's existing entrepreneurship and intellect, in particular that coming out of UF.
The newly improved government relations may come in handy as the Chamber plans to get more involved in advocating the public policy priorities of local business and its 1,200 members.
That will include weighing in on planning processes in hopes of reducing the time and expense of construction and in formulating a position on how to improve roads and whether to back a sales tax referendum, Gallagher said.
He said good roads are an important part of a community's livability as well as an economic development issue that affects businesses' ability to move goods and services.
Gallagher sees the success of a community's businesses as integrally related to its vitality. Businesses provide jobs, allowing individuals to support nonprofits, the arts and other elements, he said.
Businesses are the source of tax revenues that fund government services.
"For the last two years, I chaired the United Way board and I understand firsthand the impact that individuals — but in particular businesses through employee campaigns and corporate sponsorships and contributions — make on the not-for-profit sector and how that benefits so many different not-for-profit agencies making a difference in the lives of children and families who are in need," Gallagher said.
He said he brings the perspective of his business experience to the Chamber's leadership, including five years at the helm of SantaFe HealthCare, 18 years as a partner in a CPA firm serving multiple industries and membership in trade associations and boards across the nation and state, including the Florida Chamber and its foundation.
When he has been involved in entertaining prospects thinking about relocating or expanding, Gallagher said he will tell the SantaFe story as a model for other companies willing to invest here.
That story includes revenues that have doubled to $2 billion in his tenure at the helm of the not-for-profit holding company over health insurer AvMed, Haven Hospice, SantaFe Senior Living retirement communities and the SantaFe Village planned development off Northwest 39th Avenue.
The companies have a combined 2,000 employees statewide, including 870 in Gainesville.
His company worked with Gainesville Regional Airport to help lure American Airlines in 2010 and Silver Airways this year because of all the travel between SantaFe and affiliate company locations around the state.
"At the end of the day, business is really the lifeblood of this country and provides the jobs, and jobs correlate to strong economic value, and economic value equates to communities that thrive," he said.