Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce CEO Dana Dittmar says she is the luckiest woman in the world. She loves her job and has served in this capacity for six years. In recognition of her dedication and outstanding service to the Sun City Center community, both the Kiwanis Club and the Grand Elks Lodge honored her with the Citizen of the Year and the Distinguished Citizen Award.
Earlier this year, she earned the designation Florida Certified Chamber Professional from the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals.
"I have the greatest volunteers, staff and chamber board members who have all been phenomenally supportive of the direction we've taken this chamber over the last six years," Dittmar said.
Tampa Bay Times correspondent Kathy Straub recently spoke to Dittmar about her civic honors, her role at the chamber and the changing dynamics of the community.
What made you decide to be the CEO of the chamber?
Anytime you are working to benefit small businesses, which is what my career entailed with the SBA, it gave me a real flavor for how some of our local businesses need help. The chamber's function is not only to assist with keeping the local economy going and keeping these businesses solvent, it's also creating the lifestyle for our residents here in SCC that they spent their entire life earning and that they deserve.
We are a very unique community. We're not like our neighbors in Ruskin or Riverview. We are not catering to families with small kids here. We are specifically a retirement community with an enormous amount of military veterans and our senior population has worked really hard to ensure that have a certain quality of life. It's our job to make sure that they get it by keeping the businesses strong.
What has driven you to be so active in this community?
This is my home. I believe we should all be involved in taking care of our home. Sun City Center was built on the premise of "neighbor helping neighbor". That's the founding principle behind why we have a security patrol, Good Samaritan drivers, why we have so many non-profits and charitable organizations in this community. Out of the almost 500 members of our chamber, 75 of them are non-profits and service organizations.
Why do you think both the Elks and the Kiwanis chose to honor you?
I guess because my position is very visible in the community and I think there are a lot of people who think just running the Chamber of Commerce is really enough … but again, this is my home. I plan to retire here and I want to enjoy my retirement that I've worked all my life to get to. So I want to make sure all of these things are in place when five or 10 years down the road, I get to hang my hat up and enjoy my golden years.
Recently, some of our Hillsborough County Commissioners questioned a proposal to use county dollars to improve State Road 674. How did you and the community champion this cause?
While the Florida DOT (Department of Transportation) plans to come down here in 2018 to fix six intersections on 674 between the interstate and 301, I wrote in my Observer News column that the county needs to put in some additional dollars to fix the other four intersections that for some reason don't qualify for the federal funds that the state received.
So I rallied some of our residents, got some T-shirts made that said "SR674 is a priority now. We vote!" We got on a bus and went down to the county meeting wearing our shirts and four of us spoke before the commissioners. What had been opposed by other commissioners before passed unanimously so that they will give us this extra $80,000 to finish the other four interchanges. Keep in mind that 674 is a state road, which means by definition it is a trucking route, and we have elderly people in golf carts crossing it every day. So it is imperative that we get this road fixed before something horrendous happens.
What do you feel are the chamber's most important initiatives?
No. 1 is controlled economic development. We want to see growth here at our corridor with I-75 but we don't want to see it get out of control like Brandon or Big Bend Road did. We have five rather large residential communities currently being built, two in Wimauma and three in Ruskin, and yet nothing has been appropriated to make sure we have additional infrastructure to support the extra traffic, the extra water usage. One of my main functions is to make sure I stay with the county commissioners to make sure they understand that you just can't approve everything a developer wants just because you're looking at an increased tax base.
Do you think the community is keeping pace with progress and providing activities and amenities for a retiree group that has grown more vibrant and active?
Absolutely. Both the Kings Point Federation and the Community Association have really stepped up to the plate by doing surveys amongst the residents to find out where their interests lie. For example, not many residents play shuffleboard anymore; pickleball is the new thing. So some of the unused shuffleboard courts were dismantled and new pickleball courts were installed. The CA is expanding many of its recreational facilities. They are both doing a lot to make sure the younger seniors that are moving in here are finding things that appeal to them.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Kathy Straub at email@example.com.