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Chamber hosts annual meeting, hands out awards

By Staff | Apr 29, 2019

TIFFANY REPECKI Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce President John Lai delivers the state of the chamber address.

The Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce provided an overview of the past year, recognized members with awards and announced its new board at its recent annual meeting.

On April 23, the chamber hosted its yearly event at the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa.

Board of Directors Chair Aaron Pruss provided the welcoming comments.

“The chamber is well situated to build on a lot of positive momentum we had last year,” he said.

Pruss touched on last year’s challenges, crediting chamber President John Lai, the board and staff for meeting each obstacle head on and keeping the course, continuing to build a positive momentum.

TIFFANY REPECKI Nicole Decker-McHale received the Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer Award.

He said the result of such efforts led to a “stronger, wiser, more progressive institution.”

“In other words, the chamber is in very good hands,” Pruss said.

He reported that the board and staff rewrote the chamber’s bylaws and embarked on a plan to remodel the Visitor Center to meet the needs of today’s traveler, resulting in an enhancement of the island experience and connecting visitors more easily and directly with the chamber’s membership.

Pruss also touched on the hiring of Lai.

“We made the right decision,” he said. “John has done nothing but make us look brilliant since.”

TIFFANY REPECKI Bridget Vandenburgh, of Bridget Vandenburgh Interiors, was named the New Business of the Year.

Pruss delved into what Lai has done for the islands and water quality during the last year. With city leadership, he played a key role in championing the islands’ interests at the state and federal level. Pruss added that Lai has become a go-to source for how poor water quality impacts business and citizens.

“John has gone above and beyond what he has been asked to do and has done what he knows is right,” he said.

“I step aside as chair of the board content with our accomplishments, confident that the chamber is in good hands and excited that the future is bright,” Pruss added.

Currently a year and a half into his tenure, Lai delivered the state of the chamber address to those in attendance. He explained that he was excited, happy and honored to be chosen for the position.

“There was nothing that we couldn’t accomplish as a team, especially when we knew it was the right thing to do,” Lai said of the last year.

TIFFANY REPECKI Doug Babcock accepts the Business Persons of the Year Award on behalf of him and Tony Lapi.

The chamber’s mission revolves around a few key points: marketing the islands as a destination, business development, collaboration and networking, and advocacy and education. He reported that while the first three always ranked high as priorities, the last one was more of a “catch phrase.”

Until 2018, when the islands were severely impacted by water quality issues.

“It became our top priority,” Lai said.

He shared some figures with the audience, including that the Visitor Center had 85,500 visitors, plus staff answered 10,000-plus phone calls from visitors and distributed more than 100,000 Visitor Guides.

Lai reported that 42 new members joined the chamber and there were 13 ribbon-cuttings.

PHOTO PROVIDED The Citizen of the Year Award went to Chauncey Goss.

Last year, the chamber had a member retention rate of 90.37 percent.

An estimated 1,225 people attended its monthly business luncheons and after hour events.

The chamber’s website had about 1.44 million visits, while its social media numbers soared. Over the past year, its Facebook page likes rose to 64,446 or 12.7 percent – about 64,900 as of the meeting. It had 710,500 Facebook video views and 4,635 Twitter followers, a platform it made advancements on.

Lai spoke about what lies ahead for the chamber in the next year, even six months.

He cited member engagement, redesigning the website to make its components more user-friendly – which was tabled last summer due to the water quality crisis – and creating a member-specific site.

He also highlighted the legislative priorities for 2019, which includes Everglades restoration and funding as outlined in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, continued funding and expediting of the Everglades Agriculture Area Reservoir, establishing health standards for harmful algae blooms in the air and water and on the beaches, and reauthorizing and fully funding Visit Florida.

Also during the meeting, Mary Bondurant was announced as the incoming board chair.

She reported that the chamber will focus on its members and create a unified front.

“Water quality will continue to be on forefront for our chamber,” Bondurant added.

The following award recipients were also announced:

– Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer Award: Nicole Decker-McHale

– New Business of the Year Award: Bridget Vandenburgh Interiors

– Business Persons of the Year Award: Tony Lapi and Doug Babcock

– Citizen of the Year Award: Chauncey Goss