Born during the economic boom times when the housing development and real estate markets were rocketing to record heights, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance has become a powerful player in Southwest Florida's business community. The organization celebrates its 10th anniversary at a time worthy of festivities with a once again blossoming economy in the wake of the Great Recession.
Tonight's Silver Soiree at the Polo Grill & Bar Fete Ballroom will no doubt be a festive affair to, well, fete a milestone for a young organization that is entering a "transformational" year with a platform of new initiatives that address the changing business landscape. Those fresh ideas come under the leadership of Heather Kasten, the alliance's executive director only on the job a year .
The rapid growth in the alliance parallels the success of one of the nation's top master-planned communities and the 10th anniversary of Lakewood Ranch Main Street, coming up in October.
The future looks even brighter with the population of Manatee and Sarasota counties surging and business opportunities following suit.
Lakewood Ranch, east of Interstate 75 from State Route 64 to the north and deep into Sarasota County to the south, has been the region's economic powerhouse.
Since the land owner, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, first began developing the vast expanse of pastureland in 1994 with a neighborhood called Summerfield, Lakewood Ranch has grown into the national spotlight. This future city will certainly rival the region's current reigning municipalities.
While residential construction fueled the first years, corporate business parks, recreation, medical, retail and schools round out a community that has earned national attention and renown as the largest green master-planned community in the country.
In only a decade, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance has grown to 300 members with an additional 20 joining every month. The organization's first year came when businesses and commercial enterprises were beginning to sprout up to serve residential neighborhoods.
Back in 2004, a handful of business owners united in the hopes of forming an organization that differed from the Manatee and Sarasota Chambers of Commerce, one with a sharp focus on Lakewood Ranch.
The next year, those dedicated business people advertised an organizational meeting, in, of all places, Bradenton, at the old Manatee Community College, now known as State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota. The strong attendance, with more than 60 people, proved the value of the idea of the alliance.
More than that, though, in January 2006 the organization launched a broader, more unifying campaign -- breaking down the perceived parochial political division between Manatee and Sarasota counties and the misconception that Lakewood Ranch only served as a residential community.
Those old views no longer hold any merit. County lines are meaningless in the big-picture thinking that today's highly competitive business world demands. Lakewood Ranch has addressed this with corporate and commercial parks that continue to attract employers.
The alliance enjoys a strong working relationship with the local Chambers of Commerce, as has been well chronicled. All these organizations are about serving the community with business networking opportunities, training, seminars, education and economic development.
That includes supporting nonprofit organizations that serve the underserved, thus being good community stewards.
Happy silver anniversary, Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. We applaud your success. Your success is the community's success.