The Treasure Coast Remains Open For Business

By: Joe Catrambone, Stuart-Martin Chamber of Commerce

While our estuary and waterways are under attack from the billions of gallons of releases from Lake Okeechobee, we continue to be concerned about the conditions it’s created for us on the Treasure Coast of Florida. Our naturally beautiful and pristine landscape has, at times, been turned into an ugly mass of blue-green growth, restricting most water-related activities for our citizens. Certainly it has affected many of us that enjoy fishing, paddle boarding, diving and even bathing in the waters surrounding our community. We have been inundated with negative publicity from coast to coast, receiving calls from many newspapers asking “are your beaches really closed?” or “do your residents have to wear respirators/masks to avoid toxic fumes,” “have all of your winter residents cancelled their reservations for the winter months?”

In spite of hardships, the treasure coast is still strong, beautiful and prosperous. Our hotels have experienced a bit of a setback, however reservations for our November – April season remain strong as do our seasonal condo rentals- our realtors tell us we are booked for the season.

Our community is diversified and offers many non-water related activities. Business in general remains robust, nothing more than a normal drop-off during our summer months. We are a golfer’s paradise, home of more than 35 golf courses. Palm City and western Martin County house an enormous equestrian experience with pristine trails to enjoy. Downtown Stuart is a mecca for fine dining and one of a kind shopping all in walking distance of each other. We have museums, art galleries and theaters for enjoyment of all ages.

When blue-green algae impacts our waterways, yes, we feel it. However, we have not shut and locked the doors, we remain open for business!

By building a community that is diverse and rich in all that Florida has to offer, Stuart-Martin County is proving that Florida really is the best place to visit, live, work and play.

Joe Catrambone is the President and CEO of the Stuart-Martin Chamber of Commerce.

Commercial Websites Targeted For ADA Non-Compliance

By: Kelly H. Kolb, Buchanan Ingersoll Pooney PC

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires that “places of public accommodation” be readily accessible to the disabled.  Title III covers, among other entities, “place[s] of lodging,” “establishment[s] serving food or drink,” and “other sales or rental establishment[s].”  Any retail or lodging establishment with a physical (i.e., brick and mortar) presence open to the public must be accessible to the disabled.

Websites Must Be ADA Compliant

While websites are not specifically mentioned in the ADA, the courts have determined that Title III’s accessibility requirements apply to commercial websites of places of public accommodation.  For example, Target’s website was recently found to have a sufficient connection with its stores to be subject to Title III.  Most courts have reasoned that website inaccessibility is the functional equivalent of inaccessibility to the physical store.  The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has recently extended this reasoning to mobile apps, filing lawsuits against retailers with non-compliant mobile apps.

Why The Fuss?

Two years ago, as the first website ADA lawsuits surfaced in the Northeast, we began urging our clients with an online presence to audit their websites for ADA compliance.  Website ADA lawsuits have now reached South Florida.  Urban Outfitters was sued Monday in a class action alleging that its website is inaccessible to blind customers.  Other retailers sued recently include H&M, Tory Burch, Swatch, and Hugo Boss.

While the DOJ is empowered to seek civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for subsequent violations, the DOJ rarely pursues such relief.  Most ADA lawsuits are filed by “testers” – private citizens who seek out potential violators and who have a relationship with an attorney willing to file suit on their behalf.  Most ADA lawsuits seek only injunctive relief (requiring future ADA compliance) and legal fees.  These lawsuits are filed with no prior notice  – since the end game is the generation of recoverable legal fees, not compliance.

Compliance Details

In the abstract, a website’s software code must be written so that (for example) an epileptic can safely navigate the website without risk of seizure, or a blind person can use screen-reader software to submit online orders for goods and services.  Specifically, the DOJ requires compliance with a standard known as WCAG 2.0 Level AA – accessible at w3.org/TR/WCAG20.

While the details of WCAG 2.0 are beyond the scope of this article, there are several steps hotels, retailers and others should take:

Test your website for compliance by entering its url at wave.webaim.org.

  • Engage a third party vendor to independently audit your website and identify any deficiencies and/or provide written confirmation of compliance.
  • Invest in website archiving software which captures and stores your webpages in case you need to rebut a later allegation of past non-compliance.
  • Repeat website audits every year to insure continued compliance as changes to your website are implemented.

Consider auditing your websites for ADA compliance now. Even if your website is not fully compliant before you are targeted, the existence of a written plan for compliance could be a complete defense to a lawsuit filed before full compliance is achieved.

 

Kolb is a shareholder with Buchanan Ingersoll Pooney PC and is a frequent author, contributor and lecturer on employment issues for publications and audiences across the country. kelly.kolb@bipc.com

An Interview with Belinda Keiser, Keiser University

As the Florida Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100 years of securing Florida’s Future, we’re shining a light on Florida leaders that are dedicated to Florida’s long-term future –partners like Keiser University, Florida Chamber members since 2001.

In a recent interview with Belinda Keiser, Vice Chancellor of Community and Student Advancement for Keiser University, she shared exactly why partnerships with organizations like the Florida Chamber matter to our state’s long-term future.

“As a Florida-founded organization, Keiser University joins the Florida Chamber in their mission of ‘leading Florida to a new and sustainable economy,’” said Keiser. “Similar to the Florida Chamber, we are guided by a strategic vision, and the ability for our graduates to compete in our state and global marketplace is a priority. The Florida Chamber’s accountable commitment to solutions, actions, and leadership to secure our state’s future is one of the primary reasons we have renewed our membership year after year.”

 

The Florida Chamber knows that Florida’s economic development cannot continue to grow without a focus on a quality education system. A focus on higher education initiatives goes hand-in-hand with a competitive workforce.

According to Keiser, “The ability to compete head-on through cultivation of our talent is critical. Encouraging Florida businesses to continue creating innovative educational partnerships which provide students access to internships, tuition reimbursement, employment opportunities, scholarships, mentoring, and study abroad programs, will maximize a student’s educational experience and encourage entrepreneurship. When students (and families) invest in education and they see how their preparation allows them to achieve their professional goals, the impact becomes generational.”

 

Florida will also have unique workforce issues to address between now and 2030, especially in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

In fact, the Florida Chamber Foundation estimates by the year 2030, Florida needs to create and fill two million net new jobs, including 65,000 STEM jobs that are still needing to be filled today.

 

“The challenges include meeting the professional and career workforce needs and creating opportunities to attract companies in high-wage, high-tech fields in the most targeted industries such as: aerospace, logistics, transportation and distribution, information technology, and the life sciences including nursing, which continues to be the top occupation in demand with nearly 15,000 openings across the state,” said Keiser. “Florida must continue to attract companies who will grow our economy by expanding our current businesses, launching new ventures, and promoting an environment where Florida’s small business owners can continue to thrive. Higher education needs to be responsive to their needs, listening to industry advisors – which Keiser University has nearly 2,000 – who guide and foster major economic development and business advancement in our state.”

 

Keiser University was started 40 years ago and prides itself on its strategic vision for a better Florida. This is one reason why the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Six Pillars framework is important and has helped overcome some of the education challenges that Florida has faced in years past.

“Identifying ‘Talent Supply and Education’ as one of the Six Pillars for Florida’s future has generated awareness, solutions, and action on these challenges. The Florida Chamber continues to collaborate with Enterprise Florida, Workforce Florida, Space Florida, and other groups to bring attention and resolve to our state’s higher educational needs,” said Keiser. “This focus should result in more degrees earned by 2030, the year which the Florida Chamber noted, Florida will be serving an additional six million residents; and, we will be prepared.”

While the fight is far from over, Florida is headed in the right direction. With initiatives to help improve early learning opportunities, attract and retain world class talent while pushing for a highly-skilled, competitive talent pool, partners like Keiser University help continue the fight for free enterprise.

When asked how Keiser University envisions the next 100 years of Florida’s education future will look, Keiser addressed innovation and global competitiveness.

“There must be more focus on innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors,” said Keiser. By 2030, 50 percent of existing businesses will cease, however, new opportunities continue to abound. The biggest growth in our economy is in small business. Keiser University is establishing a Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Global Leadership, because we envision these will be the areas in which Florida’s graduates can excel over the next 100 years. In an international marketplace, students must be prepared to compete globally, excel, and have a desire to serve as a core value.”

The Florida Chamber supports its partners and echoes Belinda Keiser’s thoughts that, “by working together, we help graduates to gain a career that will allow them to provide for their families, become leaders in their industry, and realize their dreams.”

Fortune Magazine Honors Florida Chamber Members in Newest Ranking

Fortune Magazine recently released its rankings for the World’s Most Admired Companies and several Florida Chamber board member companies topped the list!

Congratulations to Publix, for ranking as the most admired company in Florida.

The list also includes:

  • NextEra Energy
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Walt Disney
  • FedEx
  • Boeing
  • CocaCola
  • CVS Health
  • Delta
  • IBM
  • UPS
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Nestle
  • Wells Fargo
  • Walmart
  • PepsiCo
  • Caterpillar
  • AT&T
  • Allstate
  • Bank of America
  • Best Buy
  • Comcast
  • Chevron
  • CSX
  • General Electric
  • Graybar Electric
  • HCA Holdings
  • Jacobs Engineering
  • Macy’s
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
  • Pfizer
  • PNC Financial Services
  • Prudential Financial
  • State Farm
  • USAA
  • Quest Diagnostics
  • Raymond James Financial
  • Southern Co.

Congratulations to all the companies that made the list. To view the full ranking, click here.