By Bob Stein
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and ask Debra Lynn-Schmitz, new Executive Director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce a few questions. Debra took over the position vacated by Kevin Cooper ‘s departure to the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
What prompted you to apply for the Executive Director position?
I have been interested in an opportunity with the Siesta Key Chamber for many years. I have been an ambassador for the “Best Beach in America” throughout my travels and in Medina. Siesta Key has been a part of my life since I was very young and I’ve often told my husband that if there were ever a chance I would love to serve the Siesta Key Chamber. After a long, rewarding career with the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce in Medina, Ohio I am ready for a new challenge and opportunity and Siesta Key just happened to be looking for a new Executive Director.
What is your experience in the Chamber of Commerce world?
I actually started my career in Chamber work selling memberships for the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce for a few months. I have been with the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce for 27 years, the past 19 as the Executive Director/CEO. I am a graduate of the Institute for Organization Management sponsored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and I have been very active in the Chamber of Commerce Executives of Ohio and in the American Chamber of Commerce Executives throughout my career.
Did you choose this profession or did it choose you?
I think it was both. I believe organization management chose me but I chose the Chamber profession. I have a passion for business success and the importance of a Chamber in community development.
What single event stands out in your career that confirmed you made the right choice working for a Chamber of Commerce?
That is a really hard question after so many years. When I started with the Medina Chamber it was a rural community with a strong manufacturing base. Today it is a growing community with a strong appreciation for all business. It is the cumulative effort of all those years that confirms I made the right choice. Seeing the vision become a reality to create a community where business, residents and visitors want to live and work is so rewarding and gives me a honest feeling of accomplishment.
How large was the membership and staff at the Medina Chamber of Commerce in Ohio?
The Medina Chamber has 520 members and 2.5 staff in addition to the Executive; about the same size as the Siesta Key Chamber.
Are you or were you involved at any national levels in the Chamber of Commerce?
Yes, I was on the Board for the American Chamber of Commerce Executives for three years and regularly attended the national conferences to learn about Chamber trends and programs from my peers and experts in the industry.
Could you name a few of your major and minor achievements at the Medina Chamber of Commerce?
Most of my achievements were the result of bringing the right people to the table to solve problems, find ways to make the community strong and sustainable and create a destination for tourists. I was involved in a number of task forces that addressed transportation and infrastructure. I brought a program to the school districts in our county to create an entrepreneurship program for high school students. The Chamber was able to purchase its building after many years of successful fiscal management. I helped initiate the Main Street Program in Medina, participated in a number of projects to retain and attract business to the community and helped create an Economic Development Director position with City Hall. I was awarded the Grassroots award for Business Advocacy from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce twice in the past five years.
Where did you grow up and go to school? Also do you have any degrees?
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and completed High School in Toledo, Ohio. I graduated from the University of Akron in Ohio with a B.A. in Business and Organization Communication and completed my graduate work with the University of Phoenix with an M.A. in Organization Management.
What is your husband’s occupation?
My husband, Tim, is retired from construction but maintains a Captain’s License and continues to skipper, teach, commission and enjoy sailing.
How would you describe yourself?
I love to work and can be a bit of an overachiever. I appreciate those that contribute and participate because it is really about working together. I like working on a team, collaborating and giving others a chance to succeed. I love the outdoors, spending time with my husband and friends, exploring and traveling. I am a reader and enjoy writing and I am really looking forward to getting back to riding my bicycle…year-round!
What would you like to say to the businesses and residents of Siesta Key?
I am excited and eager to meet the members, businesses, organizations and leadership. I will have a great deal to learn about the vision and culture of Siesta Key while sharing my experience and leadership skills serving the Chamber and the community.