provided to The Santiva Chronicle
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce has hired three new staff in recent months to replace employees who have resigned their positions. They include communications and marketing manager Landen Drake, visitor center manager Aaron Walton, and administrative intern Jade Nakonetschny. They join director of operations Mitch Orr and president and chief executive officer John Lai at the Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center offices on Sanibel Island.
The chamber’s first internship ever, Nakonetschny’s position was made possible by a grant from one of the chamber’s strategic partners. She started her twelve-month educational internship in September as a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. She will graduate in the spring of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in resort and hospitality management.
“I have been working on social media posts and chamber e-blasts, and as we continue to slowly get back to normal, I am excited to work on special events for the future,” said Nakonetschny, who grew up in Sarasota, Fla. “I have learned so much since I have started, and I am definitely excited to see what else my colleagues have to teach me.”
Walton, who was raised on Sanibel Island, took his position in March. His most recent employment was for Five Guys Burger & Fries as a general manager, where he handled full responsibility for operations and employees. A graduate from Florida Southwestern College in Fort Myers, he currently studies graphic design part time at Rasmussen University.
“It’s so much fun being back on the island, in a job where I get to talk to visitors about what I love about my hometown,” said Walton. “I can’t help but get excited by their reactions.”
Drake’s past work experience includes guest services representative at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fort Myers, special programs and events coordinator for the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, and, most recently, marketing coordinator with Conric PR & Marketing in Fort Myers. A graduate of the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., she began her work with the chamber on April 22.
“As a Southwest Florida native, Sanibel and Captiva have always held a special place in my heart,” said Drake. “I’m thrilled to join a team of dedicated professionals that actively support and advocate for local businesses, tourism, our waterways, and our community. I am also excited for a job that combines my experience with my passion for event planning and community engagement.”
“I need everyone on my team like I need oxygen,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “I’m so proud of the staff we’ve assembled, with strengths in areas where we had identified we were lacking. Together with Mitch, we are a well-oiled machine poised to take the chamber into a new era of service and marketing.”
Orr has been working with the chamber since 2017, originally as office manager overseeing database and facilities management. He was quickly promoted to director of operations, adding bookkeeping to his job description. Orr concluded active duty with the Army National Guard in July 2020 and is currently working on cybersecurity certifications, which he hopes to use for future work with the federal government.
In addition to the full-time office staff, the visitor center employs nine part-time employees and has more than 20 volunteers on the roster to help run the only Visit Florida-certified visitor center that is open 365 days a year.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With over 560 active Chamber members from both islands including businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the Visitor Center one of thirteen official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers. The Visitor Center is open 365 days a year and provides visitors with comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, where to stay, shop and dine. The Chamber website receives over 1.3 million website visits per year.
For more information about the chamber, the Chamber website or contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org.