LAKEWOOD RANCH — During the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance Board of Directors’ annual retreat last summer, then-chairman Tommy Klauber charted the future of the organization on a white board.
Board members hold this ritual every year.
But this time, with membership increasing quickly and the profile of Lakewood Ranch growing, the future projected to be bigger and bolder.
What board members didn’t know then, in May of last year, was that the future also would be uncertain.
In December, Robin Parsons, the organization’s business development director — the full-time, paid leader of the alliance who had been in her role for about seven years — resigned just three months before the organization was slated to move into its new facility.
Since Parsons left for undisclosed reasons, Annette Gueli, who joined the alliance in 2005 and has served as board chairwoman since January, and other long-standing volunteer board members, have worked overtime to transition the organization into its next life phase.
“The thought was, ‘My heart is here,’” Gueli said. “It’s my credibility. It’s my responsibility. If I let them down, I let us down. If we have to work extra hours to do it, we do it.”
The nine alliance committees already in place, including governance, executive, finance and programming, focused their individual talents to related tasks, while a new one — an economic development committee — was created.
The board of directors also approved temporary special task forces to meet new needs — such as moving to a new facility and hiring an executive director.
A human resources task force, which includes Gueli, Lou Marinaccio, an insurance professional and founding member of the alliance, past-chairman Marc Simms, incoming chairman David Fink, and others, has led the search for a new leader.
The leader will have a new title — executive director — and more responsibility.
More than 80 people — some from the Lakewood Ranch area and others from across the country — have applied for the job.
“It’s a completely different job description,” Gueli said. “It’s higher-level responsibility. The person will lead the organization into the next decade of growth.”
The job ad calls for “exceptional communication at all levels of the organization and with external organizations.”
In January, a communications subcommittee became an extension of the alliance’s public relations committee.
“We saw a communication gap, and that was true no matter if Robin was here or not,” Gueli said. “It became even more apparent without an executive director.”
The board also hired Laurie Coleman as a part-time public relations specialist.
“We want more outreach into the community,” Simms said. “Communication is a limitation inside any organization, especially when it’s run by volunteers.”
While the search for the executive director continues (the interview process has begun, although there is not an anticipated hire date), a new relocation task force is leading the move to the alliance’s new 2,000-plus-square foot office.
The move will be easy. The alliance doesn’t own anything — not even a microwave.
Since its inception, the alliance has operated out of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s headquarters on Covenant Way.
“We don’t even have a trash can,” said Alan Shaivitz, an interior designer and alliance board member who is on the relocation task force. “SMR gave us everything. And we are appreciative of that. But we added staff and needed to expand. Our only choice was to relocate.”
The new office is located in the MGA Professional Center, the new corporate headquarters of Marinaccio’s MGA Insurance Group, located prominently off University Parkway and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard on Enterprise Circle, a fitting name for an organization that has ambitions to lure businesses to the area.
For Marinaccio, who will lease the space to the alliance, the new location — one that the alliance can finally call its own — carries larger significance.
The alliance can now say it has the infrastructure to foster economic development, like a chamber of commerce or economic development council would.
“Lakewood Ranch has allowed the alliance to develop ourselves,” Marinaccio said. “They build new homes and attract employers. But now, if I’m a business owner and I want to relocate to your community, I know the alliance is there to help. We’re ready to not only verbally and professionally assist you, but we give you the space to do that.”
To promote Lakewood Ranch last year, the alliance even launched an economic development committee.
It’s another example of how the alliance has leaned on its volunteer board members to plug a leadership gap and sustain the organization.
“The (alliance) has always been focused on being a member-driven organization,” Simms said. “Our members, board and staff are just driving a little harder to get to where we want to be. It is collaboration of an organization at its highest level. Challenging, yet very rewarding.”
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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