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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 10 months ago

Manufacturers association gets full-time executive director

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Rob Harris of the Sarasota-Manatee Area Manufacturers Association has become the full-time executive director of the organization.

Manufacturing is having a moment. During the pandemic, more people have realized the impact the industry has on business and everyday life. Now, manufacturers in Sarasota and Manatee counties are getting another win. Rob Harris, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Area Manufacturers Association has become the full-time executive director of the organization.

Harris has been in the role part-time since June 2019, also working at Sarasota manufacturer Teakdecking Systems. The change to full time started Feb. 1. “I felt like the part-time situation was doing SAMA a disservice and its members a disservice,” he tells Coffee Talk.

Being full-time allows Harris to have more interaction with manufacturers and the organization’s educational partners, including area technical colleges and the UF Innovation Station. And with Harris in place, one of SAMA’s goals is to grow the organization’s membership. In the Sarasota-Manatee area, Harris says there are about 800-plus manufacturers. SAMA’s goal for 2025 is to have between 150 and 200 manufacturing members. The organization has partner members representing fields outside of manufacturing, too. 

Harris, much like his predecessor in the role, Peter Straw, will also be the voice of manufacturing for the region and participate in government advocacy events. “Just in the last 30 to 40 days, I was part of three different legislative roundtables and meetings,” Harris says. The gatherings give him the chance to emphasize the importance of manufacturing in the area and state.

In terms of legislative advocacy, there’s a clear priority — SAMA is pushing for a Buy Florida Act. He says such an act would encourage government entities putting out bids to consider more than price. It would ask them to consider value, warranty, turnaround time and other factors and include some preference for Florida manufacturers to win bids, within reason, Harris says.

Another key benefit of Harris being a full-time executive director is SAMA can build on its relationship with FloridaMakes, a statewide organization that works to improve the competitiveness, productivity and technological performance of the industry. He says, “That relationship is only going to get stronger with the agreement that was developed in regard to me coming on board full time.”

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