During this holiday season, I am often asked at parties “Where do you work?” While many people are aware of the CEP, I find a number of people are confused by our initials and who we are. It is easy to assume everyone knows who we are and what we do, but that is not always the case. The CEP is an acronym for the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (now you know why we use CEP!). We are the community’s chamber of commerce as well as its official economic development organization. The CEP was formed just over six years ago with the merger of the former Chamber and Economic Development Council. While this version is only six years old, our roots go back 130 years to the founding of the Ocala Board of Trade in 1887.
The driving factor behind the merger of the two organizations was to create a unified, single voice for the business community. One entity that could assist businesses locating to our community, growing in our community, starting in our community, and thriving in our community. In fact, the basic structure of the CEP is with teams dedicated to Business Attraction, Business Retention, Business Creation, Business Advocacy, and Business Services. It was this approach in part which lead to the CEP being named Florida’s Chamber of the Year 2018 and a finalist last year for National Chamber of the Year.
While you might not recognize these names, you may recognize some of companies and projects we have assisted. The CEP was the lead entity in recruiting new companies to our community such as FedEx Ground, McLane, AutoZone, Chewy.com, Mestizo Foods, and eResources among others (Business Attraction). We have assisted existing local companies to grow and expand here such as Cardinal LG, Wells Pharmaceuticals, and RealTruck (Business Retention). We lead the very successful Power Plant Business Incubator and the Ocala Downtown Market (Business Creation). The CEP led the effort to successfully pass the renewal of the 1 mil for the School System which funds classroom reduction, school safety, and Career & Technical Education among other areas (Business Advocacy). Programs such as Leadership Ocala Marion, Leadership Ocala Marion Youth, Young Professionals of Ocala, and Business After Hours are among the staples of our efforts to provide training and networking for our business community (Business Services).
Attracting new businesses, helping existing businesses grow and expand, and nurturing start-ups are key activities of the CEP as well as actively working to engage and involve our community. Together, we can work to keep our community Moving Forward!