The East Naples Merchants Association has a tagline: “East Naples – a great place to be in business.” On their website, East Naples is in all caps, the better to emphasize how much they mean it.

This group of people who have their businesses in East Naples, or want to associate with those who do, are bullish on their part of town, and eager to tell their story. Perhaps none of them is more eager than Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, who is practically synonymous with East Naples, and loses no chance to talk up the area.

“I was an original member” of the ENMA, said Fiala. “I’ve seen it grow by leaps and bounds. I think it’s uniting the business community.” The association was formed in 2010.

She spoke briefly – quite an accomplishment for Fiala – to the members as they gathered for their monthly “Business After Business” networking event on a Thursday in September, filling them in on goings on in county government and her efforts on their behalf, particularly advocating for more activities and diversions at the community center named for her in Eagle Lakes Community Park.

Tim Miller of Fuller Funeral Home is another longtime member and spoke of the disdain East Naples residents sometimes perceive from other parts of town.

“I grew up in East Naples. It had the worst reputation of any community around – but that rep was not earned, or appreciated,” he said. Banding together with his fellow merchants, he said, “is a way to give back, and put time into helping the community.”

The ENMA president is Sandra Simmons, principal of Money Management Solutions, accountants, tax preparers and cash flow managers. She tallied some of the service projects the group has taken on to help those in the East Naples area, and also talked up the networking opportunities the association provides.

“Last Christmas, we adopted Manatee Elementary School,” a Title 1 school where over 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. “We provided new tennis shoes for 94 fifth graders and put on a lunch for 110 staff members. We like to help the kids in East Naples.”

The group also does coaching and one-on-one mentoring, participates in a business incubator program, and has given for years to Lely High School.

At the meeting at Sam Snead’s Tavern in Lely Resort Country Club, the turnout overwhelmed the buffet, leaving empty dishes for the tail end of the 60 or so attendees, a strong showing in September for an association with about 100 members. The emphasis that evening was on the networking aspect of the group.

After announcements, and several new members taking a moment to tell about themselves and their businesses, everyone broke into small groups, based on what card they had drawn from a deck of playing cards as they signed in. They played “Two Truths and a Lie,” what Simmons described as a networking game, with each in turn at the table making three statements about themselves.

The “lies” tended to have some truth in them, and in some cases were the thing that first came to mind afterward when thinking about a given player, but with a drink in hand, it was an effective way to break up cliques and get members talking with new people they didn’t already know.

“The members like breaking up into smaller groups,” said Simmons. “Last month, we played networking bingo.” The only rule seemed to be to bring a stack of business cards.

Fiala will give a more formal presentation at the ENMA annual meeting in January, along with Mark Strain of the county’s Planning Commission. But the next scheduled meeting for the merchant’s association is at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11, at Windstar Country Club.



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