Barry Johnson “came home” to South Miami-Dade County on Sept. 1 as the featured speaker at the Palmetto Bay Business Association Luncheon. Now in his 10th year as president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Johnson’s roots run deep in this community.
“This is a little like old home week for me,” Johnson said, addressing the nearly 100 members gathered at Christ Fellowship Academy. Not only was he a member of this local business association years back, but right upstairs from the exact spot in the dining hall where he was speaking, he taught Sunday school in the 1980s, when it was First Baptist Church of Perrine.
This South-Dade community also is the first place Johnson called home upon moving to Florida from St. Louis in 1984. Relocated by AT&T to its regional headquarters at Dadeland South, he and his wife, Catherine, lived off Old Cutler Road, across from the old Burger King campus, now the Palmetto Bay Village Center, at SW 184th Street.
“To this day I still have a passion for South-Dade, not just because it was my first home here, but because it is such a fabulous and interesting place,” he said.
Johnson recalls serving on the Perrine/Cutler Ridge Council, the precursor to the Economic Development Council.
“This group came together in a real grassroots way to help businesses rebound after Hurricane Andrew. It was a terribly difficult time, so we really had to advocate for ourselves,” he said.
In fact, Johnson has made a career of advocating — for businesses, that is. He joined the Greater Miami Chamber following 25 years in corporate communications leadership at AT&T, wrapping up his career as vice president of corporate affairs. He also directed corporate brand programs; guided public-policy initiatives affecting local issues, state, and federal legislation; served as a corporate spokesman, and orchestrated philanthropic investment of the AT&T Foundation.
Today, Johnson is president and CEO of the GMCC, South Florida’s first and the longest sustaining business development organization and one of the largest chambers in the Southeastern U.S. He directs a team of more than 30 chamber professionals, supporting more than 400,000 employees of chamber member companies in South Florida.
“When people think about Miami, invariably they think South Beach or downtown,” he said. “But clearly, not everybody lives on Brickell, Calle Ocho, or Collins.” That’s why when the chamber meets with new people coming into town, Johnson is sure to mention, “There’s a whole lot of Miami to the south.”
He recommends first-time visitors to go down to Schnebley Redlands Winery, tour the surrounding agricultural areas, and drop by Black Point Marina off Biscayne National Park.
“I tell them to take in the beautiful parks and tree-lined streets of Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, and Cutler Bay — residential areas that truly embody South-Florida living,” he added.
“I also like to point out that Miami is one of the youngest major metropolitan areas in the entire country, the only one founded by two women, and that our history has always been about diversity,” he added.
Johnson notes that Miami has seen a constant flow of people from the Caribbean but also from across the world, and of course Latin America, as well as from our northern states: “people who put their brand on this community.”
“If you add up the attributes of all the people who come here to try make this a special place, you realize Miami truly is a unique community,” he said. “And that’s only going to continue to get better and broader and more global — which is our future.”
And what’s in Johnson’s future? He said after handing over the keys to the next chamber president he wants to work on raising the profile of “the best kept secret in Miami” — the South Florida Progress Foundation.
This 501(3)(c) organization was created by GMCC after the urban unrest of the early 1980s as a funnel for businesses wishing to solve some of the area’s urban issues.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is located at 1601 Biscayne Blvd. (Ballroom Level), Miami, FL 33132. For information call 305-350-7700 or visit www.miamichamber.com.
The Palmetto Bay Business Association is a networking group that meets on the first Thursday of each month to discuss Palmetto Bay and its business opportunities. For information, visit www.pbbaonline.com.