Just three months into her new leadership role as president and CEO of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Christine A. Ross is ready to take the chamber and its 1,100 member to new heights.
According to Ross, that includes a vision for economic development that’s the right fit for Bonita Springs and Southwest Florida. "We need to figure out how Bonita is different from our neighboring communities so we can leverage that to attract quality businesses," says Ross. "Quality of life here is exceptional and tourism is part of that strong economic base, but Bonita’s future depends on bringing in businesses such as life sciences and light manufacturing to compliment that mix."
In her former position as chamber executive in Falmouth, Mass., Ross led economic development efforts in the Cape Cod area where she was a champion for regionalism. She points out the similarities of the two communities. Falmouth and Bonita Springs are both resort communities with a peak visitor season; both have similar populations (around 40,000); and both have many small businesses. Additionally, both communities are just a piece of a much larger geographic puzzle.
Ross says that our region is what makes us special.
"Southwest Florida is full of business opportunities. We are fortunate to have an international airport and a solid educational base with four area colleges. This not only attracts new businesses to grow our economy, but it will help us keep young workers here," says Ross. "In Falmouth, I launched a young professionals group. The Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce has already identified this important demographic as our future growth. One of my goals this year is to develop a young professional networking group."
The following is from an interview with Ross.
The Banner: How would you describe Bonita Springs?
Ross: "Both the weather and the people are warm and welcoming."
TB: How would you describe Bonita’s business community?
CR: "The atmosphere is relaxed, but so full of energy. Everyone is working very hard to sustain what Bonita has achieved in the past decade. Every person I’ve met is upbeat and focused."
TB: How has the current economic situation affected chamber members?
CR: "It’s been gut-wrenching. People are saving in every way they possible can. But what stands out is how much they are realizing the importance of networking and strategic alliances. Chamber members are working to promote each other."
TB: How are your membership numbers?
CR: "The numbers are good. Membership is increasing again. While many businesses are cutting their marketing budgets, we’ve shifted our budget to increase marketing. We’ve added sales staff and we’re focused on retention."
TB: Government is a huge focus for Americans. How does the role of government play out for the Chamber and its plan for the future?
CR: "The Chamber has established a great government affairs arm and works with our local government on issues that are important to our residents. The quality of our local government officials is second to none. We’re all part of the Lee County group that will make the trip to our state capitol for Tallahassee Days. In fact, Bonita Springs has the largest contingent of local leaders that will attend."
TB: Tell us about Tallahassee Days.
CR: "It’s an effort for local officials to unite and personally meet with legislators about the issues that are important to our community. We give the people a voice and a face."
TB: What’s on your agenda this year?
CR: "Roadways are a top priority. We want to stay on track with "shovel ready" projects, meaning those roadway projects that are already scheduled to begin in the next 120 days. Healthcare and property tax reform are also critical."
TB: Let’s shift the focus to you. What motivates you?
CR: "I’m challenge driven. Stepping into Nancy Keefer’s shoes is not an easy task. She developed a five-star chamber and a five-star staff, so I’m very lucky. I’m up for the challenge to take the Chamber to the next level. I look forward to working with our regional leaders region to keep Southwest Florida’s economy strong."
TB: What is your proudest accomplishment?
CR: "Without a doubt, the three men in my life. I have a wonderful husband, Robert Ross, and two sons that I adore. I miss them terribly, but we’re very close. My husband is a school administrator, so he’ll be here as soon as school ends. My oldest son is at Northwestern University and my youngest has plans to go there too. And, I ‘m madly in love with my Irish setter, Astor."
TB: What do you do when you’re not wearing your Chamber hat?
CR: "I’m an avid reader, I love to get out and bike, and my husband and I love old movies. I want to be Grace Kelly in High Society when I grow up."
TB: You seem to truly enjoy life; I bet you have a creative side.
CR: "I enjoy making window coverings and gardening. I also hope to join a local chorus. I’ve always been involved a chorus."