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Carrollwood business group celebrates 30 years of partnerships

CARROLLWOOD — Survival.

That's what brought together about a dozen concerned business owners in 1985, when the Florida Department of Transportation announced the widening of Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood.

They saw what happened to the south, along Waters Avenue, when the formerly two-lane road was widened to a six-lane thoroughfare. Countless cones and barricades, stacks of new pipes and piles of limestone roadbed material blocked driveways and killed adjacent businesses.

The worried Carrollwood business owners vowed not to see their livelihoods wither away behind orange barricades and yellow earthmovers.

"We approached FDOT and asked if they could compromise with us throughout the construction project," said chiropractor Barry Shapiro. "(FDOT) worked with us. If a business had two driveways, they closed only one at a time. If a business had just one driveway, they'd work on that stretch of road at night.

"It was one of the largest projects at the time for which they used floodlights for night work. We grew close."

The worried business owners came together in finding a win-win construction solution with state government, and that's how the Carrollwood Area Business Association, or CABA, came into existence 30 years ago.

Shapiro, a founding member, specifically recalled certified public accountant John Baumann of Baumann, Raymondo & Co, driving the idea of a formal group and the association officially formed in 1986 with 16 members.

"It was like a fellowship," said Noreen Klein, one of the original members.

Klein, who owns a legal document company called Leader Docs LLC and a horse rescue nonprofit called Equestrian, Inc., remembers executive vice president Marshall Smith spearheading a membership drive in 1988 that doubled the size of CABA from 50 to 100 members.

Ranks continued flourishing as FDOT widened N Dale Mabry Highway from a four-lane country road into a six-lane artery through the growing suburb.

Now the group has around 400 members and continues to bring together entrepreneurs and residents, hosting some 50 events a year.

Throughout those 30 years, CABA has staged hot-air balloon launches, Christmas tree lightings, job fairs and expos. After Sept. 11, 2001, it organized a rally and lined Dale Mabry with U.S. flags.

The group's current event slate includes a community gathering called "Spirit of Carrollwood."

It also has a charitable focus. CABA once raised funds when a member's house burned to the ground, and saw matrimonial bliss spring between at least two of its members.

Unlike other business groups, which might meet just once a month, CABA members can choose from breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and even regular golf events.

Over the years, the association expanded to include members from around the area who live in Carrollwood or do business in Carrollwood, not just members who both live and work in the suburb.

"One of the great things about CABA is the level of support," said Action 100 Realty agent Jessica Kingsborough, who joined the association in 2012. "Yes, I can network, attend events and promote my business, but it's also great to be able to talk to business owners that have walked the path ahead of me.

"The advice, support, and motivation are invaluable."

CABA president Rob Cunningham, a member since 2003, likes to say, "we're in this together" when describing how the association successfully helps businesses build credibility with the community and creates a sense of family.

Still, Cunningham said, challenges remain, including finding new ideas and "raising the bar" on the events and partnerships. He said strengthening the group's core can, in part, come from the experience of the association's past leadership.

"In many organizations, when your time is up leading the group as president, the leaders often go on to other groups and lose their focus and involvement," Cunningham said. "One of our many strengths is to have most of our past presidents not only as members but as active contributing members.

"In our 30th year, we will rely on our past leaders and invite new ones to step forward to help meet the challenge of staying relevant in an ever-changing world. I'm confident CABA will be up to this task."

Contact Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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