LEADERSHIP TAMPLIFIED

A salute to our local military leaders  

They pace in the lobby outside the meeting room, mobile phone pressed firmly to their ear.

Maybe they quickly squirrel away to a corner to take a conference call or respond to an email. Some whip out their iPads and resolve a pressing issue in mere minutes.

It’s the Leadership Tampa hustle: a break between that fascinating panel discussion and the presentation from the CEO that doesn’t always serve as a break. In 10 minutes or less, these titans of business must address an issue that requires their immediate attention.

Every Leadership Tampa member must balance between the demands of the program and the requirements of their everyday jobs. Yet it can be even more taxing for the MacDill Air Force Base leaders hoping to immerse themselves in lessons on what makes Tampa tick.  

The average LT member may be worried about job security, but the average MacDill leader is worried about national security. It can be company incidents versus international incidents. Employees versus airmen. Trade secrets versus state secrets.

“Events across our nation and around the globe directly impact the duty day of any military member,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Emily Farkas, deputy commander of the 6th Maintenance Group and a LT 2018 graduate. “We typically have a consistent peacetime work schedule, but it can change instantly when the unit receives a task to deploy or to support real-world missions from home station, i.e. MacDill Air Force Base.

“In supporting a military nominee, careful consideration is given to deployment cycles in an effort to honor the commitment to the program.  Furthermore, military members typically do not have more than two or three years per assignment so the timing of participating in the program is another important consideration.”

Clearly, the stakes can be higher for Leadership Tampa’s military representatives, but they never fail to make the commitment. For decades, Leadership Tampa has found a spot for MacDill’s finest. The leadership at MacDill supports a nominee(s) from the base for Leadership Tampa so they can share their perspective as one of the more than 19,000 uniformed members at the base.

“Since the Armed Forces became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the military-civilian gap has widened, and less Americans have a connection to the military as only less than 1 percent have served,” Farkas said. “In my experience with programs like Leadership Tampa, they have been able to connect uniformed service members with community business leaders to exchange leadership experiences and to share personal stories of the military journey … much like MacDill’s Honorary Commander Program prioritizes engagement with our civic leaders.  

“Additionally, it gives military members the opportunity to know more about the community that supports them and their families.”

Few, if any, have regretted the decision. Irving Lee, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said he enjoyed his time in Leadership Tampa Class of 2004, but the involvement was significant for him and for all MacDill members.

“The time commitment is one of the biggest issues,” said Lee, who was the 6th Mission Support Group Commander while stationed at MacDill. “The people who are the best candidates have insane schedules so in addition to picking from amongst a pool of well qualified candidates, schedules also have to be considered.”

Lee said, however, it’s about more than picking a leader who has the time. Base leaders also examine what’s best for their mission, and which candidate makes the most sense in helping with that mission.

“Another key consideration is figuring out where the best ‘return on investment’ will be for the base,” Lee said.  “Of course, we want to send the best ambassador to the community, but what will it cost in terms of time and opportunity costs to let someone make a 10-month commitment?”

Both Lee and Farkas have fond memories of their time. Lee specifically recalls a special surprise he hid from his classmates during their visit to MacDill on “Military Day.”

“I still remember (former Bucs safety) John Lynch being on our KC-135 flight,” Lee said. “I believe he had been traded and Chief Lew Monroe helped get him a flight suit and a seat on the LT flight. The ladies in the ‘04 class were amazed to see him walk up the stairs to get on the plane. I still have our group photo somewhere.”  

After completing the class, many choose to remain involved after they “graduate,” while others find themselves deployed to the next city after completing their two- or three-year tour in Tampa. Farkas has extended her commitment through LTA.

“I remain involved with Leadership Tampa Alumni because I now feel a personal connection to Tampa and desire the opportunity to give back to the community,” Farkas said.

With Veterans Day on the horizon, let’s remember to salute not only every man and woman who has served, but those LTA members who have managed to go through the class while fulfilling a commitment to the nation.

That’s all I’m saying.

 

Hooper

Ernest Hooper, LT’03

2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Co-Chair

Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

ehooper@tampabay.com

Follow him @hoop4you

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Leadership Tampa Class ’18 Prom Gives Back to Community

 

LT18On August 10, 2018, the LT ’18 Class hosted a prom with over 160 registrations and raised over $22,000 for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC). The proceeds benefited the CDC’s Youth Success Center’s high school seniors as they explore post-secondary educational options.

“The original intent of this event was for us as a graduating class to think about how we could contribute something that would also continue to be an ongoing effort for our Leadership Tampa class to give back to the community,” said event co-chair Lindsay Grinstead. “The second piece of the program was that after the prom 30 classmates are getting paired with students who are at the CDC and are seniors in high school to engage in a mentorship program over the course of the school year to help them in the college search process.”

LT ‘18 took a very structured approach when looking at what they would do to give back to the community. Once they figured out they wanted to focus on education and the youth, they looked at organizations in Tampa that could benefit from the fundraiser. Representatives from each of the organizations being considered presented to the class to explain how they could benefit from the support. In an effort to support a fellow classmate’s organization, and work with an organization that supports education, LT ’18 members agreed on the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC).

“Each one of us will get the chance to mentor one of the students to help them through the process of applying for college, visiting colleges, preparing for college, and then continuing that mentorship as they’re in school, and hopefully as they continue on in their careers,” said event co-chair Randy Prescott.

The LT ’18 Class is already planning and preparing to hold the event again next year at Amalie Arena, with dates to come soon.

The event was possible due to the support of the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC) and the generosity of the following sponsors: The Mosaic Company, JP Morgan Chase, Lightning Foundation, GTE Financial, Tampa International Airport, Tampa Bay Rays, Wehr Constructors, Inc., TECO Energy, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Valley National Bank, The Beck Group, Visit Tampa Bay, Johnson Jackson LLC, KCI Technologies, CS&L CPAs, and Stacey and Brandon Pittman.

Leadership (T)Amplified

I’ve long held a fascination with bumper stickers.

From the cute to the clever to the controversial, I have an appreciation for how people far smarter than me can craft such provocative and poignant thoughts in such a finite space.

How they came to be a staple in my column, however, remains somewhat of a mystery. I did a little digging through our archives and found one of the earliest references to a bumper sticker in a 2004 column. In noting my 40th birthday, I remarked at the wisdom of this nugget: Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

But it wasn’t until my column began appearing on the front of the Times’ Monday Metro section that I zeroed in on the practice of trying to include one in nearly every column. That column — limited to 300 words because of the design of the page and a request of my editors to keep it to the front page (no jumping inside) — essentially required the same tenets of a bumper sticker.

I needed to deliver a lot of thoughts in a finite space.

So began a quest that to this day prompts me to scour the back of cars even when I’m traveling at high rates of speed. At times, I’ve walked behind cars in parking lots and snapped a shot, even if it leaves me looking like a weird stalker trying to record someone’s license tag number.

Choosing what makes it into print requires a degree of discernment. I’ve learned over the years that it’s wise to stray away from political statements, but stickers seen on cars in this decade that referenced the Richard Nixon and Ross Perot campaigns made the cut.

I also include stickers that don’t necessarily reflect my opinion. The idea is to allow the sticker to make a statement about how some in our community may feel. So, a sticker that said, “I’ll keep my guns and religion, you can keep the change” made it into my column in the months after Barack Obama was first elected president.

I also must be careful not to offend. A reader once sent in this bumper sticker: If Life Gives You Melons, Maybe You’re Dyslexic.

Some readers decried the sticker as a poor attempt at humor, but I had to explain — and should have included this note in the column — that the sticker came from a reader who has dyslexia.

I’ve also relied on other sources, so you will occasionally read “Seen on a T-shirt” and “Seen on a church marquee.”

But to bring some clarity to the situation: I don’t see every sticker I include in the column. I’ve trained my friends and family to relay quality stickers, and I probably get more suggestions from readers than I see on my own.

However, every bumper sticker is indeed a bumper sticker. I don’t make them up. Oh, I wish I could be so philosophical, so brilliant, but my creativity doesn’t extend to those incredible pearls of wisdom and delectable nuggets of humor we all should cherish.

Without further ado, here’s a random list of bumper stickers I’ve used in columns over the years — just for my Leadership Tampa Alumni friends.

Seen on a bumper sticker:

  • I’d Be A Vegetarian, If Bacon Was A Vegetable.
  • If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You A Little, They’re Not Big Enough.
  • To Have The Last Word, Try An Apology.
  • Intelligent Ones Wonder — Idiots Are Dead Sure.
  • Yes, I Talk To Myself. But Only When I Need Expert Advice.
  • Friends Are God’s Apology For Relatives.
  • Johnny Cash Is A Friend Of Mine.
  • Follow Your Dreams – Except That One Where You’re at School in Your Underwear.
  • Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy.
  • I Do What the Bumper Stickers Tell Me.
  • Orwell’s 1984 Was A Warning, Not A Manual.
  • Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjo Music.
  • Just Give Me Coffee, And No One Will Get Hurt.
  • There’s No Shortcut To Anywhere Worth Going.
  • If we can put a man on the moon, why not all of them?
  • Don’t Make Me Use UPPERCASE.
  • You Never See A Harley Parked In Front Of A Shrink’s Office.
  • If going to church makes you a Christian, does going to the garage make you a car?
  • In Internet Years, I’m 19 and Hot.
  • I’m Out Of Bed and Dressed. What More Do You Want?
  • God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.
  • All Work, No Pay Makes A Housewife.
  • If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop.
  • Good girls go to heaven, Bad girls go everywhere else.
  • I’m Not Paranoid. Why? What Have You Heard?
  • D.A.D.D. – Dads Against Daughters Dating.
  • A Smooth Sea Never Made a Good Sailor.
  • PMS allows women once a month to act like men do every day.
  • If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?
  • I want a sensitive man. One who’ll cry when I punch him.

Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Co-Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
ehooper@tampabay.com
Follow him @hoop4you

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Leadership (T)Amplified: Leaders in Motion

The Leadership Tampa Alumni members who attended LT Transportation Day 2.0 on Aug. 24 at Tampa International Airport may not have realized it, but they congregated near Tampa Bay’s population epicenter.

TIA marketing director Kari Goetz, who coordinated the fun-filled and informative day, said the epicenter for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco sits just outside the airport’s Delta terminal.

Goetz took it upon herself to offer a different experience for participants, in part because TIA operates under an unwritten mantra.

“That’s one of the rules we have at Tampa International,” Goetz explained. “You can’t say, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’”

We spoke to Goetz about what she set out to accomplish, the joy she gets from working for TIA CEO Joe Lopano and how she sustains her entrance in the theater.

Tell us what you were hoping LTA members would take away from Transportation 2.0.
With the exception of LT ’18, no other LT program had ridden SkyConnect. Every other class either got a hard hat tour, or people remember the baggage sorting facility. If you’re from the Tampa Bay area, you’re probably not renting a car. If you’re not renting a car, you may not be taking SkyConnect, you may not see the rental car facility. We built it for our visitors, so there’s this huge gem that locals don’t experience. That was why I got excited when the Chamber came and asked, “Do you want to host a LT 2.0 on transportation?” I said, “Yes,” because I want people to realize what this facility is because they’re probably not using it. That was our goal, let people see what $1 billion did for the economy, for the community. Also, if you build it they will come. Look at the transportation infrastructure that we invested in and look at how it’s already starting to have an impact.

Can you elaborate on that?
We have a commercial curb that we built as part of the rental car facility with the hope that eventually we might get some bus service. We didn’t know how. We didn’t know when. We’ve had to put in temporary signage for local buses because it came so much faster than we anticipated. We built the curb and opened in February. By June, we had on the hour service from HART starting all the way in Wesley Chapel and coming down the I-275 corridor. We also now have nonstop service from the Ulmerton station in Pinellas across to the airport. Those are 12-15 buses a day we didn’t have before. That was also a story we wanted to communicate.

So, the rental car center decreases the traffic leading up to the terminal?
There was a day in 2016 that shall live in infamy at Tampa International Airport. We call it “Carmageddon.” We had a situation on the parkway that absolutely gridlocked the parkway. When we saw it and ran the numbers, we realized that the Carmageddon we experienced is what we’re going to experience more often in five to ten years if we didn’t do anything about our current roadway traffic with rental cars and the shuttle buses we were using back and forth from the economy parking.

While people could pick up their rental cars across from baggage claim, that’s not where they lived, right?
The rental cars didn’t sleep across from baggage claim. Rental cars slept way out on north property. There was a little under a mile and a half transit that those cars used to do on the parkway. They got their baths on the north property.  They got their oil changes on the north property. All inventory was accounted for on the north property. Those cars were having to get transported that distance constantly from the north property, and as people were returning those cars, they were being driven over to north property in chunks. The rental car center has taken 4 million cars off the roadway annually. It’s huge.

At the Transportation Day, we got a chance to hear from Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano. What’s it like working for Joe?
It’s like changing a tire, but the car is going 75 miles an hour. I actually empathize with the stories of the Imagineers who worked at Disney, because Walt would have these incredible ideas and the Imagineers would say, “How are we going to do that?” It’s the same here, but I’ve learned this amazing technique, and it’s, “Yes, if …” You say yes to all of his ideas, if he can handle what it’s going to take to get there (laughs). You know what, there are a lot of times he’s willing to absorb the if. As he said, we will always find the money if it’s the right thing to do. If it’s the right thing to do for the community, if it’s the right thing to do for future generations, we will find a way to get that done. He’s not afraid of the if. He’ll go to the yes, and he’ll work through the if. That’s a pretty exciting place to be because we get to figure out how the “if” works.

So, Joe Lopano is a doer. He says instead of, “No we can’t,” we need to say, “Watch this.”
He’s a change agent. He believes in revolutionary change, not evolutionary change. There are two mindsets: evolutionary change or revolutionary change. It’ll happen over time or it’ll happen because we’ll make it happen. He makes it happen.

The day also featured a panel discussion with Tyler Hudson from All For Transportation, Brightline Vice President Bob O’Malley and Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez. How enlightening was the panel discussion for you, because you’re pretty plugged into transportation?
I learned a little bit. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of All For Transportation, but some of that future proofing we learned about — the idea of 56 percent of the funds being out in the county — I kind of knew that but I feel like I got my talking points reinforced and now I know how to go out and speak about it. “Why are you voting for it?” I think the short answer before was we need better transportation and I work for the airport. Now I feel like I have some stronger talking points about how it’s going to affect and improve the lives of everybody in Hillsborough County.

There appears to be more specificity in the All For Transportation proposal than some may realize.
I agree. Now I have a better way of defending and clarifying what it’s actually going to be doing. It was also great to hear from Bob from Brightline. That’s a super exciting opportunity. I’m watching that closely because it would be such a game changer for all of us.

I remember you once portrayed a dog in the stage production of Sylvia. Do you still get the itch to engage in theatrical productions?
I do about one show a year. At Jobsite, I was nonstop. I was in every show or directing a show, but I got married and I had a kid and I started working here and I travel all the time, but October is a quiet month for me and that’s usually when I try to get a project in. On Oct. 1, I go into rehearsals for Stageworks. I am directing a show that opens in November called The Revolutionists. It’s the French Revolution through the eyes of four women. It’s a playwright, Marie Antoinette, the woman who killed Marat and a woman who represents the Haitian spy network. It’s going to be a good show.

Leadership (T)Amplified: Prom King

KEVIN PREAST, LT’18
Senior Vice President of Event Management, Tampa Bay Lightning – Amalie Arena

Like high school underclassmen staging a prom for the graduating seniors, the Leadership Tampa Class of 2018 has chosen a project that promises to bring back memories of tuxedos, wrist corsages and photo booths.

In short, LT ’18 is taking it back to the old school.

Kevin Preast, the senior vice president of event management at Amalie Arena, has teamed with his LT ’18 classmates to help stage “Launching Into The Future: Prom 2.0” on Aug. 10 at the arena’s Firestick Grill.

The event aims to not only serve as a good time for the current class but grow into an annual “reunion” for all Leadership Tampa Alumni members.

Preast, a University of South Florida graduate, recently spoke about programming live events for Amalie and the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center, what he gained from Leadership Tampa and how LT ’18 struck upon the idea of a high school prom.

Tell me about your Leadership Tampa experience.
It was awesome. I went into it not really sure how it would go. I had a general idea, but I was thinking it was going to be a little bit more vanilla, but it quickly became something you anticipated, mainly because of the people. The peak behind the curtain about the community was complemented by the people. Then it became this full circle of things I wanted to do more.

You’ve spent a good bit of time telling the story of Tampa to producers and artists. Elaborate on that.
Tampa is a boomtown. We’re growing at an exponential rate with more than 200 people a day moving into our DMA (designated market area). We’re getting younger, we’re getting more diverse, we’re getting more innovative and we have more disposable dollars than ever. And that’s only continuing to grow. Explaining that to people who aren’t from here, or who don’t understand what’s happening here, has been my challenge.

You became the senior vice president 2½ years ago with the goal of boosting Amalie’s brand and truly making this sports arena a cultural center for the community. How’s that gone?
It’s gone really well. We’ve grown in the national and world rankings. We’ve pretty much lived in a top 10 position in the national rankings, but we had a record year in the fiscal year 2016-17, and we actually just broke that record in 2017-18. We’re on an uptick. We’ve told the story of what Tampa is, and what being a boom town means, and we’ve actually backed it up by selling tickets. When artists or acts or family shows come here, our market has responded by coming and enjoying the events. When you start to have more events and sell tickets, other people start to pay attention and they want to come here and be a part of that. The last two years have exceeded expectations.

How much has being in Leadership Tampa enhanced your ability to tell Tampa’s story?
It’s given me so much content I haven’t even used it all. One of the things I’ve learned about Tampa is this community gives back to itself, more than anyone realizes. There are organizations that preside here and help with issues like at-risk kids, food deserts and transportation issues. There are so many things this community does to give back to itself, it’s mind-numbing. Another example, the scope of Port Tampa Bay. We all know the Port, we all hear about it, but it was amazing to go in at the granular level and learn how much it impacts our daily lives.

So, you had the knowledge piece and you developed the bond with the class. How did you come up with a prom?
First, we had to choose a benefactor. For that, we ultimately decided to go with the CDC of Tampa — whose CEO Ernest Coney is a member of Leadership Tampa 2018 — because we decided we could immediately be impactful in what they’re trying to do and create a legacy of impact. Then, we shifted to the theme. We seemed to have a strong presence of marketing and events people in our group. So, as we were talking through it, we thought it would be a good use of our varying skillsets to put on an event. From that, we decided we want to create something not just for our class project, but an event for a community that gives back to itself, and an annual get together. So, every year, we want to host this event and hope it will be sort of a class reunion for the class.

That’s ambitious.
Well, it’s not “kind of” Leadership Tampa (laughs). I will say in our group, we have a lot of A-Type personalities. Each one of us individually will conquer the world, but collectively we’re just a bunch of hard-headed business people (laughs). So, we love the idea of creating something that not only would bring us back together but that we could extend to other classes, our spouses and our businesses.

It also seems like your class wants to connect LTA to the event. You guys really are like underclassmen throwing a prom for the seniors.
We were enamoured with tying in with the bonds of the other classes. We all believe we can take on the world, and we felt like if we set something up that would be inclusive to everybody that’s been inclusive to LTA, it would make it that much easier for it to live on in perpetuity.

Launching Into The Future will feature an open bar, dinner, dancing and complimentary valet. Tickets are $75. For tickets and sponsorship opportunities, visit https://www.cdcoftampa.org/prom

Insights from business accelerator program lead and chair

 

By Ernest Hooper

The impending developments and booming business spurs excite the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s LaKendria Robinson.

And it’s Robinson who will play a relatively small but critical role in fueling what comes down the pipeline. As director of the chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator program, Robinson works to help the chamber make the most of Tampa Bay’s changing demographics.

As it seeks new cohort participants, Robinson aims to boost the profile of minority-owned businesses which traditionally can be hampered by limited access to capital, resources and key decision makers.

She recently shared her passion about the program as it moves into its second year, and explained how Leadership Tampa Alumni members can play a key role.

Entering year two, what have you learned from year one?
In year two, we’re going to really focus on the growth of the companies. For us, that really means paying special attention to each of their individual situations, each of their individual growth stages within their businesses and tailoring various parts of the program to fit their specific needs, versus a one-size-fits-all bandage approach.

So, it’s not just a one-year program. You’re continuing to help the businesses you brought in last year.
The official course of the program is two years. The first year is the most time intensive. We ask that they spend at least 16 hours a month engaging in programming activities. I will tell you, this particular cohort has gone well above that. They probably spend 20-25 hours a month. Next year, it’ll tailor off to eight hours a month. Even beyond that two years, we will continue to track their progress in terms of their business growth for an additional three years. We know all the wonderful things that will happen, as a result of the program, will not be in the first two years. It’ll likely carry on for a couple of years afterwards.

What was the biggest surprise in the first year?
The biggest surprise, honestly, is the current cohort participants want to spend more time strategically planning for their businesses. There’s this misconception that minority and small companies don’t like to plan for their businesses. There are resources out there and they don’t want to take advantage of them. We were expecting that a little bit, but to our surprise, they want more. Even the sessions that we do on a monthly basis, they’re five hours and at the end of the sessions, they don’t want to leave. They’re constantly asking questions, they are looking to meet with the program facilitators of those courses. They’re taking the information they’ve learned back to their business advisers and continuing to talk about it. They are really looking for more engagement.

Is it a thirst for success that drives that?
Yes. They see it now. They see others that look like them, that started where they started, being more successful. They now know there are resources available for them in the community. They have additional people that want to help them be successful. They definitely want to take advantage of that.

Why is the chamber investing in the minority business accelerator program?
The chamber actually started looking at an accelerator program before I joined the chamber. They really took a hard look at the changing demographics in Hillsborough County versus the demographics of the chamber. Historically, the chamber’s membership has included certain industries, certain types of people with a certain level of success. With the changing demographics in Hillsborough County, they decided to strategically focus on engaging the minority business community and align themselves with the changes that were happening within the community. So, they looked at a couple of different chambers that had accelerator programs and realized that not only was it successful for the chambers for diversifying their memberships, but it also had this huge economic impact on the community as a whole. It created more jobs, made minority businesses more successful and got them to a point where they could create wealth for their families and the families of their employees.

If I’m not a minority-business owner, why should I care about this program? How does it benefit the overall chamber effort?
It helps the pie expand so everyone can reap the benefits of minority businesses growing. It also gives non-minority individuals that are looking to engage with minority companies a clear understanding of who those companies are, what they do, and showing with a little support and help, they can be successful. When I talk to non-minority individuals, they tend to thirst, almost, to give their time and resources and expertise to help those who really need it.

How important is networking for people in the accelerator program?
We spend a lot of time teaching them not only how to network but also how to work a room in a way they never have before. When you walk into a networking event it’s extremely intimidating because you have to try to make a connection. We teach them a lot of things they can do on the front end before they even step foot into that event to set them up for success. We teach them those type of skills because after they leave the program, we’re expecting them to keep those things up. Also, being a part of civic organizations, philanthropic organizations, educational institutions — seeking board appointments — helps expand their network, and it also layers in that professional development piece that a lot of these organizations have.

Leadership Tampa Alumni members constantly focus on networking. What would be your message to LTA members interested in networking with participants in the minority accelerator program?
My message to them would be regardless of what their job is or what their expertise is, there’s always a company or a person that could use their experience. We find a lot of times with the facilitators we have, they not only share their expertise, they also share their stories of success. It could be a dabble in entrepreneurship or it could be a dabble in climbing the corporate ladder. There are always similarities. I have one cohort participant that often says, “We all have the same problems. We just have a different phone number and a different address.” For the LTA members who want to learn more, I would definitely encourage them to do so because we could always use them.

While LaKendria Robinson leads the chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator Program, the program also benefits from the guidance of chair Bemetra Simmons, who also works as senior vice president for Wells Fargo Private Bank/Wealth Management. We asked Bemetra to share some thoughts about the program and its impact.

Please detail your role with the minority business accelerator program and tell me how much that role excites you.
Essentially my role as Chair of the MBA program is to be an advocate within the chamber and the broader Tampa business community by with providing program recommendations, evaluating the ROI of the accelerator, and assisting in recruiting efforts of program participants, volunteers, and funders.

How much can the minority business accelerator program broaden the chamber’s impact and appeal?
Tremendously, the MBA can assist with the Chamber’s 2026 Vision plan and commitment to diversity and inclusion. By assisting Black and Hispanic owned companies with growth, the Chamber not only has an opportunity to diversify its membership base but more importantly to help the Tampa business community to have sustainable minority companies.

As chair, what has impressed you about the first year of the program?
How quickly the companies have achieved results.  We knew that the companies would be positively impacted (from a quantitative standpoint) but I never dreamed we would see such fantastic tangible results within the first 6 months

How has LaKendria Robinson contributed to the success of the program?
The chamber could not have hired a better person to lead these efforts.  LaKendria not only takes personal time and attention to each of the cohort companies, but she also spends time with potential companies for future classes. The most valuable asset that she brings is the time she spends with our funding sponsors to not only ensure that they are getting the most for the sponsorship dollars but also to assist and position the existing cohort companies to do business with the sponsorship organizations.

LaKendria can be reached at 813-276-9408 or lrobinson@tampachamber.com