Highlights were given and prestigious chamber awards were presented during the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce annual meeting April 18, at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa.
The Sue Rosica Gray Volunteer Award was presented to Ed and Lynn Riedlehoover; the New Business of the Year Award was given to Santiva Chronicle; the Business Persons of the Year was presented to the Dahlmann Family and the Citizen of the Year Award was given to Marty Harrity.
"That was quite a surprise," Harrity said the following day. "It's a privilege to be part of the community and be recognized by your associates is special and has way more meaning. I couldn't be prouder."
Marty Harrity was presented with the Citizen of the Year award during the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce President Ric Base said a committee sits down and reviews all of the names that have been submitted for the awards over the year.
The Volunteer of the Year award can be given to anyone in the community; the New Business of the Year Award is given to a business that has been with the chamber for less than two years and is very involved and active with the chamber and the Citizen of the Year is presented to a non-sitting politician, or a non-city employee.
Base said the names tend to be a cumulative type of thing, with some individuals going back into "the hat" so to speak for the chance to win the award the following year.
This is Base's final year as the president of the chamber. He will retire at the end of the year.
"It's exciting and a change," he said. "I think it's time for new blood to come in and take it to the next level."
During his 11 year tenure, Base said they have continued to work on the chamber's website, which has been extremely successful and important to their members for referrals. He said another strength has been working with COTI, a group that went from no dialogue with the chamber to sitting around the same table having conversations in a very constructive manner.
"We have agreed to disagree," Base said. "It's a nicer way of doing business. That is really a feather in our cap."
The chamber is also in a very strong financial position, he said, adding that there is plenty of money set aside in reserves.
"A lot of chambers suffered during the recession. We were able to increase our revenue through that," Base said, which provided a great deal of strength and value for their members.
His hope is the next person that comes into his position will continue moving the chamber forward by tweaking what needs attention.
After retirement, he will spend more time out on the water as a boat captain with Adventures in Paradise. Currently he is the captain one night a week with Adventures in Paradise.
"I live off island, but I am going to stay pretty active around here," Base said. "I am looking at a couple of options."
The chamber saw a small decline in terms of those that stopped at the Visitor's Center.
"The day trippers are not here that have been here the last couple of years," Base said.
He said they saw a 10 percent reduction in bed tax in February and a 5 percent reduction in air travel, as well as two baseball teams not selling out during spring training.
Base contributed the decline to last year's water quality problems, as well as the Zika scare.
"Our folks were fairly happy here," he said, adding that they were down about 2 or 3 percent.
The decline in visitors, he said can also be contributed to individuals finding all of the information they need on their smartphones, rather than stopping at the chamber to pick up pamphlets.
"It's a change in mentality and the way people do things," Base said. "We have to look at how do you fill the gaps with the younger crowd over the next few years."
Another contributing factor is the popularity with Air B&B. There were
1,600 rooms added to the inventory in just Lee County. Base said Air B&B is not going away and will impact the hotel industry.