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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 27, 201312:00 PM EST

Delaney key to chamber's push toward public issues

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

When state Rep. Daniel Davis was named president and CEO of the JAX Chamber, it marked a shift toward leadership more recognizable to the community.

That shift was reinforced last week when the organization announced former Jacksonville mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney will serve as the chamber's chair in 2015.

"The chamber is a community organization," Davis said. "To have a community leader of his stature (as chair) is a big deal."

Delaney served as mayor from 1995-2003 and was the force behind voters approving a local sales tax increase to fund the Better Jacksonville Plan improvements. Delaney also launched the Preservation Project, a series of land grants for parks.

Before he was elected mayor, Delaney served as chief assistant state attorney, as the city's general counsel and was chief of staff for former Mayor Ed Austin.

Delaney became UNF's fifth president in 2003. The university has more than 16,000 students enrolled, 600 faculty and more than 1,000 staff.

During his tenure, UNF has achieved sustained growth through a fundraising campaign led by Delaney that has nearly doubled the university's privately funded endowment campaign.

Delaney, 57, said this week his selection as chair and experience in the public arena can mean more visibility and influence for the chamber and its initiatives. He said Davis is interested in getting involved in more public-policy issues to promote economic growth.

Davis said Delaney's performance as chair of JAXUSA Partnership, the chamber's economic development division, will be an asset when Delaney assumes the role with the chamber in January.

During the first half of 2013, JAXUSA Partnership and its private sector partners announced plans for more than 2,600 new jobs, more than any first half of a year since 2006 and nearly as many new jobs as were announced in 2012.

Davis concurred with Delaney's prediction that the chamber will begin to tackle more public policy issues and seek wider support beyond member businesses.

"There are some community issues we are looking at. We want to make sure the community is prepared to support development of the port, we need more success Downtown and we need more economic growth," Davis said. "We're seeing the economy move in the right direction. When the community sees we have strong leadership, they will get on board."

Delaney said being chamber chair is consistent with what he has accomplished at UNF.

"Part of my job at UNF is to be involved with the community. We raise $1 million a month and you don't do that by being all take and no give," he said.

Economic development has been one of Delaney's priorities for many years, as the city's chief executive, as president of UNF and through his work with the chamber.

"Economic development lifts all boats. The city is always better with more jobs and better jobs. During my eight years as mayor, I woke up every day figuring out how to bring more wealth to Jacksonville," he said.

Asked if assuming the local business membership organization's leadership role next year might be at least a small step toward another run at elected office, Delaney said that's not what's on his mind, but did leave open his options.

"I have a contract for five more years at UNF and I don't think I would need 'the chamber chair' on my resume to run for any office.

"But never say never," he said.

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