The Southwest Florida community came together to recognize local businesses and leaders at the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Chamber Awards, held July 27 at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center in downtown Fort Myers.
The program celebrated the installation of the Chamber’s 2023-24 board of directors and featured award ceremonies, grant presentations and a gourmet dinner to honor the dozens of business and community leaders as finalists in a variety of awards categories before naming the overall winners.
“Our Chamber is here to Empower, Connect and Unite our members, and the annual Chamber Awards pay tribute to the many incredible business and community leaders who call Fort Myers home,” said Jay Johnson, chair of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber. “We were proud to recognize nearly two dozen finalists for their outstanding achievements and celebrate our 2023 honorees for their impact.”
The Chamber Awards recognized a recipient in each of the following categories:
- Small Business of the Year was awarded to SPADA Salon & Day Spa. One of Southwest Florida’s largest day spas, SPADA is owned by Andrew and Judy Williams and features 21 private treatment rooms, 55 team members, a steam room, two lounges and five couple suites. Owners are committed to the community, supporting many local nonprofits including Pace Center for Girls, Lee and Valerie’s House, and Andrew previously served on the board for the Greater Fort Myers Chamber. Other category finalists were Offshore Sailing School and Spiro & Associates.
- Large Business of the Year was awarded to Stevens Construction. Led by President Mark Stevens and partners Executive Vice President Dan Adams and Controller Terri Sobeck, Stevens Construction specializes in health care and commercial construction. With offices in Fort Myers, Sarasota and Orlando, the company guides clients through the entire development and construction process, allowing them to make educated decisions which provides superior construction, saves money, time and creates the best experience possible. Other category finalists were Norman Love Confections and Scotlynn USA.
- The Community Impact Award was awarded to Will Prather. The CEO of Prather Productions and owner of Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, Prather and his family have been producing quality theatre for more than 60 years, while serving as a champion for many local nonprofits and charitable causes. Prather provided much-needed support after Hurricane Ian, donating more than 500 pounds of food to Community Cooperative and distributing free ice and water to the community. Other category finalists were Talisha Faber (SVN Commercial Partners) and Kelly Thawley (The School District of Lee County).
- Entrepreneur of the Year was presented to Rob Whyte. Whyte founded Fort Myers Brewing Company as Lee County’s first microbrewery alongside his wife, Jen. What started as Rob’s homebrewing hobby has transformed into a successful, community-minded business with a signature line of flagship beers and hard seltzers. Celebrating 10 years in business, the brewery is one of the largest craft brewers in the state with award-winning beers and seltzers poured at over 1,600 locations. Other category finalists were Ryan Carter (Scotlynn USA) and Matthew Rebstock (Tech in a Flash Computer Services).
- The Nonprofit Excellence Award was awarded to Community Cooperative, Inc. Since 1984, Community Cooperative has worked to eliminate hunger and homelessness in Southwest Florida while supporting sustained positive change in its clients by delivering innovative food, education and social service programs. It also supports and strengthens those whose lives have been affected by these problems and ensures that they have access to the resources necessary to transform their lives with dignity. Other category finalists were The Heights Foundation and Our Mother’s Home.
- Young Professional of the Year was presented to Stefanie Ink Edwards. Edwards is the CEO of Community Cooperative and has recently been appointed by Govenor Ron DeSantis to a three-year term on the Florida Commission on Community Service, also known as Volunteer Florida. She was previously recognized by DeSantis in 2022 with the Spirit of Community Award by the Florida Commision on the Status of Women (FCSW) for her impact, volunteer work and serving as a positive role model. Other category finalists were Melissa Mitchell (Priority Marketing) and Kelly Thawley (The School District of Lee County).
The awards ceremony also recognized honorees of the Women in Business Committee’s APEX Awards, which recognizes local women with outstanding reputations for professionalism, philanthropy and leadership. This year’s APEX Award was presented to Marilyn Santiago. Santiago is partner and chief marketing officer of Creative Architectural Resin Products, serving the construction industry by providing beautiful resin-based faux architectural trims and accents, and president of Sunshine Integrated Solutions, where she leverages her expertise in branded content, promotional campaigns and talent management. She volunteers, sits on the board of directors for several local and national organizations and is a recipient of multiple awards and recognitions. Other finalists for the APEX Award were Darla Bonk (City of Fort Myers councilmember and Darla Bonk Consulting), Alicia Miller (Our Mother’s Home), Anjali Van Drie (Family Initiative) and Jen Whyte (Fort Myers Brewing Company).
“Southwest Florida is such a special community full of resilience and drive, and the evening left me with so much hope,” said Brian Hamman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud to recognize all new board members, award finalists and winners, the amazing sponsors and everyone who made our Chamber and APEX Awards a success this year. I am excited to see the future of our chamber and the community as a whole!”
The Chamber Awards were presented by title sponsors Convergint and Verizon. Additional event sponsors included SPADA Salon & Day Spa, Priority Marketing, Fort Myers Brewing Company, Florida Gulf Coast University, DoubleTree by Hilton at Bell Tower Shops, Solomon & Hoover CPAs, City of Fort Myers, Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A., Waste Pro USA, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, Pool Pro’s Inc., Norman Love Confections and M&M Multimedia.
About the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce:
Serving Lee County and surrounding areas since 1989, the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, Inc. is a business organization that provides solutions and serves as a catalyst for growing the economy. The Chamber represents over nearly 750 professionals and businesses throughout Southwest Florida, empowering, connecting and uniting members through meaningful networking, educational and community- and business-focused programs and events. For additional information regarding membership opportunities or events, please call 239-332-2930 or visit www.fortmyers.org. For the latest news and updates, follow the Chamber on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gfmcc.