(Above) Outgoing Chamber Board Chair Aaron Pruss gives lively welcome speech. (Below) Chamber President John Lai gives State of the Chamber.
(Above) Outgoing Chamber Board Chair Aaron Pruss gives lively welcome speech. (Below) Chamber President John Lai gives State of the Chamber.

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce made significant progress in the past year – all of which was illustrated in a standing-room-only annual meeting Tuesday, April 23, at the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa.

Outgoing Board Chair Aaron Pruss launched the evening with a lively speech in which he highlighted the hard work of Chamber President John Lai. “Along with our steadfast City (of Sanibel) leadership, John has played a key role in championing our islands’ interests in clean water, both in state and federal government forums,” he said.

Lai traveled extensively to speak directly with elected officials, and anyone else who would listen. He represented the islands’ business community in 35 legislative meetings since the water crisis last year. He presented compelling data on the economic toll poor water quality took on the islands.

(John) spent much time away from his family,” noted Pruss. “He has not done so because he had to or it is in his job description, but rather because he recognizes the importance of this issue and was compelled, by his work ethic and integrity, to take on this responsibility on behalf of those he serves in this organization.”

In addition to being a part of the fight to save our ecosystem and tourism economy, the Chamber embarked on a complete remodel of its Visitor’s Center – something that had not been done in 30 years. The new space meets the needs of the 21st Century traveler by integrating technology with the human touch of the many volunteers who assisted 85,500 visitors and fielded 10,000-plus phone calls in the past year.

The re-purposing of the Visitor’s Center evidences the Chamber’s commitment to leave antiquity behind in terms of marketing to promote everything that makes the islands unique and directly link visitors to members’ businesses.

There were more than 1.4 million visits to sanibel-captiva.org and the number of social media followers grew substantially. The Chamber welcomed 42 new members; reported an impressive 90 percent member retention rate; and hosted 13 ribbon cuttings.

I am compelled to thank and commend a tremendously active Board of Directors for their direction and support of the Chamber’s administrative staff,” said Pruss. “Without the individuals who give so much of their time and experience, the Chamber could not do what it does for its members.”

Longtime Sanibel resident Mary Bondurant will be Board Chair for the next year, and presented Pruss with a bow-tie, his signature piece of attire. The Chamber’s blueprint for the year to come includes a redesign of its website and creating a member-specific site, as well as continuing to engage members.

Presentation of Awards

The second half of the annual meeting consisted of an awards presentation to recognize businesses and leaders in the community. Nicole Decker-McHale earned the Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer of the Year award for her invaluable efforts on behalf of non-profits, including her in current roles as chair of the F.I.S.H. of SANCAP Board, social chair of The Sanctuary Golf Club and a Sanibel Public Library Commissioner.

Bridget Vandenburgh Interiors and her Blue Bungalow showroom in Anchor Point Plaza was named New Business of the Year and Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts’ Toni Lapi and Doug Babcock were awarded Business Persons of the Year. Chauncey Goss was named Citizen of the Year for his commitment to our city, the water quality fight and many non-profit organizations.

Goss served as an elected member of the Sanibel City Council for two terms. In January, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed him to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, of which he was elected chairman by his colleagues at their first meeting in March.