Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance celebrates 10th year by networking, partying

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In business, sometimes a party isn't just a party. It's how relationships are made.

For its 10th anniversary party, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance took this ethic to heart Thursday.

Rather than hold a sitdown dinner as a backdrop to speeches, awards and thank yous, the organization rented the ballroom at Polo Grill, set up food stations and a bar, brought in a magician, a band and a photo booth, then let members in to have a good time.

The event riffed on a theme for the organization, which holds 50 social events for 500 member businesses every year. Those events have cultivated bonds between businesses in Lakewood Ranch that cross the border in a community straddling Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"It's the life blood," said David Fink, chairman of the business alliance board of directors. "This organization is about creating relationships."

There was no denying it as men and women dressed from business casual to evening formal wear shook hands, hugged, laughed and talked into the evening.

For Cheri Christiansen, the event was a debut. A newly recruited alliance member, the life coach will soon begin building a venue in the commerce park to offer yoga and meditation classes by day and a social wine lounge at night.

"We break ground in a month and a half," she said.

Leann Spofford, a marketing professional working with Christiansen and a former alliance staff member, said bringing new members was her goal for the night.

"I actually promised I'd bring new members," she said.

Alliance Executive Director Heather Kasten said she expects new faces at alliance functions to be a common occurrence in the future. Lakewood Ranch is set to expand housing and commercial developments quickly over the next few years, ranging from a new 1,200-home Del Webb community near the intersection of Lorraine Road and State Road 70 to an expected massive buildup of homes and businesses between University Parkway and Fruitville Road.

"It's a great place to have a business," Kasten said.

Three business owners formed the alliance a decade ago to give a voice to the Lakewood Ranch business community. Kasten said the group operates apart from the Manatee Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce to represent businesses that identify more with Lakewood Ranch than either county.

The alliance marked its anniversary by unveiling a new logo earlier this spring.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.