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Willis Smith exec takes over as LWRBA chair

Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance Chair David Otterness says he will put new vision and mission statements into action and increase the nonprofit's advocacy in 2024.

Dave Otterness says his wife Jennifer's support allows him to give back to the community through the LWRBA.
Dave Otterness says his wife Jennifer's support allows him to give back to the community through the LWRBA.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Erik Hanson, the outgoing chair of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, said his one-year term involved a lot of planning for the future of the nonprofit.

So as he handed the customary giant gavel to the new chair, Willis Smith's David Otterness, he said he was jealous of his successor in one aspect.

"David gets the joy of seeing it put into play," Hanson told a sellout crowd at the Grove Feb. 23 in Lakewood Ranch.

Otterness wore a big smile as he agreed he will enjoy the fruits of a hard year of planning.

"As a board, we talked about 'What do we want to be when we grow up?'" Otterness said. "And we spent a lot of time putting together a strategic plan. We are going to be celebrating our 20th year, and as the business alliance has grown, so has the region. (Schroeder-Manatee Ranch) has built out, and we need to be a bigger alliance, and have a bigger seat at the particular tables. We will have a larger voice when it comes to advocacy."

As Otterness spoke, the new vision and mission statements flashed on a big screen behind him.

The vision statement read, "To be the leading business organization, fostering a strong quality of life for business and residents of the Lakewood Ranch region."

The mission statement read, "Support the success of our members through unparalleled access to business connections, resources, and advocacy."

Outgoing chair Erik Hanson receives a service plaque from new LWRBA Chair Dave Otterness.
Photo by Jay Heater

With 191 new members in 2023, and 706 members total, Otterness said he wants to take the growing strength of the alliance for a ride. 

"We will have stronger representation at the state level," he said, "That doesn't mean we are going to be about supporting candidates. We always are going to stay in our lanes. But we will advocate for things that are business friendly, My old man (the late John Otterness) always said, 'If you are not involved in politics, politics will be involved with you."

Otterness faces a busy year. He is the Willis Smith Construction project executive for the $132 million Mote Science Education Aquarium that will be completed adjacent to Nathan Benderson Park by the end of the year.

He said the executives at Willis Smith promote community involvement and that makes it possible for him to help lead the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance.

"I have a strong internal support system," he said of Willis Smith. "We have good team members. I can't thank them enough. They always are in my corner."

A table of Willis Smith Construction executives bought a table at the LWRBA event and held huge cutouts of Otterness' face.

The Willis Smith Construction crew — David Sessions, Rick Scherzer, Otterness, Brett Raymaker, Taylor Aultman, and John LaCivita — came to support Dave Otterness.
Photo by Jay Heater

Also in attendance was Otterness' wife, Jennifer. They have two daughters, 14-year-old Alyssa and 11-year-old Lauren. Otterness said his wife's support was key in allowing him to give back to the community through the alliance.

He also said it will be easy to have success with such a talented LWRBA board.

"I try to learn from everybody ele," he said. "I ask what works and what doesn't. We take a look at all our events on the calendar. You know, 99% of it comes down to communication."

Hanson was asked if he gave Otterness any advice about being the board chair.

"I would tell him to trust your board members, because it is a great group," Hanson said. "It is a great knowledge base. We have experts in every industry."

During Hanson's year as board chair, the LWRBA added 191 members and now stands at 706 members.  Hansen said the growth is inevitable.

"Every week it seems like Rex (Jensen, the CEO and president of SMR) is adding another property," he said with a laugh.

Otterness said he would get advice from his 24-member board and Hanson, but he said the rock of the nonprofit is Brittany Lamont, the CEO and president.

"She keeps me on track," Otterness said. "We just talk about stuff."

He said one of his main roles is to be a connection between the community and the alliance and to explain how the alliance can help businesses out. 

He also will be "defining our policies and procedures. At the end of the day, that is important to the success of our organization."

Otterness was asked what he would say in trying to convince a member of the business community to join the alliance.

"I would say 'I can open you up to a network of 706 companies," he said. 



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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