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Kevin Cooper
Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 9 months ago

Search is on for chamber leader

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As Kevin Cooper leaves the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce for a new job at Mote, the business organization is searching for a new president and CEO.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

When he took the position of president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Cooper made sure one question was guiding his work: What could the organization do for the community that nobody else was doing?

For more than two years, Cooper said, he focused on building a culture and providing services to members of a business group that has been around for more than a century. Now, as he prepares to depart his role for a job at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, he believes he’s made progress on both fronts, positioning the chamber to continue to work effectively as it transitions to new leadership.

Mote announced in December it would hire Cooper to serve as vice president for communications and strategic initiatives. He’ll join Mote in early 2019, leaving the role at the chamber he’s had since October 2016.

In that time, the chamber has partnered with the CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, a workforce development organization, and taken a leading role in the successful campaign to change the date of city elections. Cooper said member input drove both of those efforts; the CareerEdge partnership, for example, was a response to businesses concerned about a lack of available workers in the area.

Cooper credited the chamber membership for providing a concentrated base of business interests capable of pursuing needed initiatives and providing input to local decision-makers.

“When you look at our board of directors, the businesses that join and support the chamber — that coalition, that group is wholly unique,” Cooper said.

Charlie Bailey, the past chamber board president, credited Cooper with effectively partnering with the board on outlining and achieving goals aligned with the group’s mission. He cited two other recent successes during Cooper’s tenure: the relocation of the Visit Sarasota County Visitor Center to the chamber and the city’s commitment to using its business tax income for economic development purposes.

Past chamber board president John Craner is leading a search committee to find Cooper’s successor, Bailey said.

Bailey expressed optimism the chamber was well-positioned to draw highly qualified candidates.

“We’re sorry to see Kevin leave, but we’re excited about the effective, dynamic person we’re going to have taking the helm of the chamber,” Bailey said.

Although he’s moving on, Cooper hopes his emphasis on culture-building has helped put the chamber in that position.

“I think we’ve done it really well,” Cooper said. “And I think we’ll continue to do it well if we continue to maintain a focus on those things: building value, building relationships.”

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