Lakeland Business Guide 2019 Chamber Guide_2019 - Page 38

C hamber President Cory Skeates knows that this is a great time to be in Lakeland. When he arrived here four years ago, he found a strong foundation, and he has been working tirelessly to build even more opportunities for training, community events, and ways to provide what investors expect from their Chamber. “We’re seeing that Chambers are having to evolve or they’re dying,” says Skeates. “If we’re not providing a service that’s helping members grow, and, at an event, if they’re not able to take away something that they can directly apply to their business for success, then we’re not doing our job. So that’s really where our focus has been.” Prior to coming to the Lakeland Chamber, Skeates led the Oviedo/Winter Springs Chamber for eight years. When he started in that position, his background had been in politics and law, earning a degree from Barry University’s Law School and working for the Florida Legislature. He knew so little about Chambers that he had to ask the friend who recommended him for the position, “What is a Chamber, and what does it do?” “I kinda got thrown into Chamber work — didn’t know much about it, kind of learned on the job — but it’s become a passion for me,” says Skeates. “I figured I would be there a couple years, but I was there eight years and loved it.” During his time at the Oviedo/Winter Springs Chamber, the organization grew from around 200 members to 650 members and got to the point that they were able to buy their first building. They now have their own permanent address. With so much growth and success, Skeates eventually felt like he had done almost all he could do for that organization and wanted to make the jump to another challenge. While looking online one evening, he saw that the Lakeland Chamber was looking for a new president. After careful consideration, he applied, and the rest is history. “I was fortunate that, walking into this job, unlike the previous one where there were quite a few issues that had to be dealt with, here [outgoing President] Kathleen [Munson] had set a great foundation for me to succeed,” says Skeates. “They had just turned from the ‘fair share’ to the ‘tier’ membership levels, which we’re in now, so that was something I had to learn immediately: how to initiate tier memberships and get everyone transitioned over. But we knew we had a real opportunity here because there were a lot of things I had done in Oviedo/Winter Springs that I wanted to bring here.” Many of these initiatives focus on trainings, education, seminars, and community-focused events. “Knowing there were opportunities here that hadn’t been tapped into yet, and having the opportunity to go around and speak to CEOs and business leaders about what they expected from their Chamber, gave us the opportunity to come up with things like our Nod-to-Nonprofit tour series,” says Skeates. “To go out and explore opportunities with our Foundation to where we have hired our Chief Development Officer Darla [Pettaway], who has been working to transition our private foundation to a public foundation so we can do things with workforce development, skills gaps, trainings, and things like that.” In addition to some of the time-tested, beloved Chamber programming such as monthly Business After Hours, the Annual Meeting, EMERGE, Leadership Lakeland, and more, a number of new programs have been implemented over the last couple years through the Chamber and the Foundation. The Nod-to-Nonprofit tour series highlights a different nonprofit organization each month that gets to showcase their programming to Chamber members. The New Business 101 initiative takes startup or newer businesses and educates them on a lot of different areas of business to ensure they are successful. The program 38