The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance spent the past 13 years growing into the area’s best-kept power network. With 600 members and growing, it still shows no signs of splintering.
Like many organizations, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance began with a few unremitting spear-headers pounding the pavement.
At the end of the day, we connect people. Whether that’s connecting for business purposes, connecting to nonprofits, connecting to county government, connecting to Lakewood Ranch activities … everything we do here is
based on connecting people.”
Heather Kasten, President and CEO, LWRBA
Thirteen years ago, when Lakewood Ranch was still sort of in its infancy, a handful of businesspeople — regulars at a local coffee shop in Lakewood Ranch — sat down and started chatting. Once again, the conversation came around to one nagging question: How could local businesses in a new-ish community unify during a time of unprecedented growth?
The coffee klatch’s eureka moment came when they hatched the idea for a consortium of East County businesses, an alliance of commercial enterprises and proprietors, the purpose of which would be to, essentially, watch out for one another.
“Collectively, we agreed on calling ourselves the Alliance,” says Lou Marinaccio, chairman of Gallagher Affinity, a Lakewood Ranch-based insurance company. “We thought it was important businesses felt they were part of a community.”
Marinaccio, one of LWRBA’s founding members, had some extra office space, so he donated it to the group. They drafted a newsletter and flyer to promote the organization, and went door-to-door handing the papers out to small businesses springing up in the area.
LWRBA, founded in 2005, grew flyer by flyer, business by business. Today, the organization is buoyed by 600 member businesses, five staff members and 150 meetings and events a year.
The organization’s growth, steady over the years, has been marked by staying true to its simple and original intent — fostering connections.
“At the end of the day, we connect people,” says LWRBA President and CEO Heather Kasten. “Whether that’s connecting for business purposes, connecting to nonprofits, connecting to county government, connecting to Lakewood Ranch activities … everything we do here is based on connecting people.”
Despite its growth in numbers, the group has remained loyal to its mission. Members often refer services and products provided by other alliance members to customers and clients. Relationships are respectful, not competitive. They don’t crop up overnight, they sprout gradually over time. “It’s like planting a seed,” Kasten says. “It’s something that has to be nurtured and grown.”
Perhaps one of the reasons everyone plays so well together is because Lakewood Ranch feels like, as Kasten puts it, “one big neighborhood.”
Kim French, chairman of the 2018 LWRBA board, says this year the organization has put an emphasis on getting more involved in the community. At its March membership luncheon, the group hosted Todd Bowden and Diana Greene, superintendents of Sarasota and Manatee county schools, respectively, for a moderated discussion on the cost of education. The event, which was open to the public, kicked off a concerted effort to get in front of more community groups. Most of the programs — about 90% — aren’t just for members. They’re open to the public, including residents of Lakewood Ranch.
“The alliance has a friendly connection that is real,” says French, vice president of clients at Willis Smith Construction. “It’s really a strong relationship-building group. The ability to help you build relationships quickly is probably the No. 1 thing they do for people.”
Kasten says she often gets calls from people looking for specific recommendations. In response to these requests, the LWRBA is planning to release a resource guide in the spring.
One company that will appear in the guide is Apothicare at Lakewood Ranch. The new full-service pharmacy owned by Ed and Laila Zeid opened in July behind the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota ER off State Road 70. One of the area’s few mom-and-pop pharmacies, Apothicare is the only independently owned pharmacy on the LWRBA roster.
Zeid and his family moved to Lakewood Ranch two years ago from Punta Gorda. At the suggestion of a friend, he attended a LWRBA event and left feeling uplifted. The mixer was different than other social events and business functions Zeid had attended. “The best way to describe it was genuine,” Zeid says. “Everyone cared and wanted to know what I was doing.”
He officially joined the organization last spring.
“These are all small businesses that really want to help each other grow,” Zeid says. “I think that’s what Lakewood Ranch is all about. It wants to see people succeed.”