Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chairman's Message: It’s a Toll Bridge…get over it?

A source of major contention with locals and tourists alike is the high cost of travelling over the Mid-Bay Bridge and the newer Crosstown Connector. Is this a Destin problem? More directly, is this a Destin Chamber of Commerce problem?
For BusinessThe Destin Chamber exists to “advocate for business and strengthen our community.” It’s my desire as current Chairman to help make the Destin community a premier place to live, work and play. How does the cost of the Mid-Bay Bridge play into this goal?
Clearly, a large part of our workforce commutes from Niceville, Crestview and other areas north of Choctawhatchee Bay. Destin lacks the population to staff all of the jobs available in our marketplace, so we turn to area cities to hire the employees that we need.
The average full time employee who makes 20+ daily trips over both Bridge and Connector will spend approximately $2,000 per year in tolls alone (assuming the ‘discounted’ $3/trip rate). A part time worker (due to the $4/trip rate) pays an even higher price to work in Destin, if they have to cross the bridge, and many times they do it to work a shorter 4-6 hour shift.
If a job seeker is offered 10% less to work in Niceville rather than Destin, and they accept the reduced pay simply to avoid the tolls, this is a Destin problem. Many employers have paid higher wages to compete. Many have resorted to bringing in temporary employees from overseas simply to make sure they can meet staffing needs. Many have failed to expand due to concerns over finding employees. The lack of ability to grow is a Destin problem. 
The Borrower is Servant to the Lender…While it is easy to list reasons why a lower toll would help the local economy, the reality of is that the Bridge Authority has large debts, which must be paid. Simply lowering the toll because citizens desire to pay less is not a reasonable solution. Change is possible if united voices rise up.
Is this Important to You?The Chamber exists to advocate for our membership. Is this topic an important one for you? Is a lower toll vital to the success of your business? Speak up, tell us how we can advocate and let’s dialogue about it. We are not making a statement for or against the bridge toll at this time, but rather want to understand its importance in the lives of our membership.
Upcoming EventsThe Chamber is committed to providing and partnering in events that create environments for strong business networking, such as:
  • 5th Annual Paddle at the Porch (Aug. 20, on the beach behind the Back Porch)
  • 50th Anniversary Event (Dec. 15, at The Henderson)

Building bridges….and living in paradise,
Jonathan Ochs
President, Trustmark Bank

2016 Destin Chamber Chairman

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