RUSKIN — The Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its awards banquet with a Hollywood-style extravaganza, complete with glamorous gowns, furs, stylish suits reminiscent of the film Bonnie and Clyde, and movie-themed decorations.
Setting the stage for 2014, chamber executive director Dana Dittmar says she's determined to have the organization at the forefront of all the growth that awaits south county.
"Our time has come," Dittmar told the audience at the Bahia Beach Resort & Club at Little Harbor in Ruskin on Jan. 10.
"This is an incredible opportunity for south county, and we want to direct the growth the best way we can."
Longtime chamber member Debbie Caneen, director of admissions at Sun Towers Retirement Community in Sun City Center, succeeded Encore National Bank branch manager Jim Wilmouth as president. Caneen will focus her efforts on encouraging the membership to get more involved and take full advantage of all the opportunities the chamber has to offer.
"The advantage is they'll achieve a better presence among other members, and when someone is in need of their services, they'll be thought of first," Caneen said, who has enlisted the help of her chamber ambassadors.
This year, there will be a new and very special ambassador who will spend most of the time meeting and greeting members at their workplace. A traveling "Busy Bear," inspired by Dittmar, will spend the next year visiting members who haven't been able to participate due to the busy nature of their business.
"This is a different way to reach out and give them a warm, touchy feeling," Dittmar said, introducing the stuffed teddy to all the banquet guests.
Jennifer McCafferty of Jen's Market in Apollo Beach received the prestigious 2013 Business of the Year award. McCafferty launched her business during the economic downturn after losing her job because of corporate downsizing. McCafferty said she overcame many challenges during the first 18 months, building her business from event planning and the distribution of promotional items to a successful year-round weekend market venue called Jen's MarketPlace.
When the first MarketPlace opened last July at the Sun City Center Chamber with a "Christmas in July" theme, over 400 shoppers packed the market, which features a variety of vendors who sell farm fresh, organic and natural products. As an avid marketer for the chamber, McCafferty's time and energy were rewarded.
"The chamber recognizes that small businesses need support," McCafferty said. "These people know me well, they know I will help in any way I can, and their referrals are a key factor in receiving this award."
Other Sun City Center Chamber award recipients for 2013 service are: Community Leader of the Year: Deb Adams, BMO Harris Bank; Ambassador of the Year: Jennifer Petit, ServiceMaster; Frank King Volunteer of the Year: Mimi VanDevender.
Kathryn Moschella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.