Julie Mathis never intended to work for the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce for 27 years — 24 of those as its executive director.
So maybe it’s no surprise that a few hours after her “surprise going away party” she’ll get in her car and head for South Carolina, where she plans a laid-back retirement.
With her daughter, Kate, settled in with a good job in Chicago, Mathis found the draw of family too much to overcome. She’ll leave her home for the last 27 years and move close to her sister where she said she’ll enjoy going to her nieces’ sporting events.
“I always have enjoyed the change of seasons, anyway,” Mathis said as she counted down her final days with the chamber. “If I stayed here, I would be sitting on my lanai, reading the paper and saying to myself ‘this is not the way to do this’ and writing letters to the editor.”
Mathis has been a constant in a changing Charlotte County environment. While Hurricane Charley and the rapid influx of baby boomers has forced the county to deal with changes — and growth — she has been a steadying influence on the business community.
While some might see her as a laid-back, polite woman — and she is just that — she has a strong determination to accomplish her and the chamber’s goals. And she is not afraid to stir the political waters when she believes she is right.
We sat down with Mathis recently to discuss her time in Charlotte County. We also posed the following questions that she graciously answered:
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How much has membership grown in the past two decades?
We’ve had our ups and downs, but remain consistent at about 1,100 members.
Did you have specific goals, hopes for the chamber when you first took over 24 years ago?
Not that I recall. I probably hoped that I’d be able to be the executive director for the year to come.
What events have been implemented over the years that you believe made the biggest difference in drawing in members and/or helping the community bond?
Leadership Charlotte, in its 31st year, is our signature program. We have over 750 alumni who have raised and given more than $607,000 to local nonprofit organizations. The class of 1993 started the Junior Leadership Charlotte program and other classes built parks, conducted studies and overall made a tremendous difference in the community. More recently, our Hottest Business Day in Paradise Business Expo has introduced our members to more than 1,500 residents each year for eight years. Our Ninth Annual Expo is Feb. 6, 2020 and I’m confident that another 1,500 residents will visit booths where our members will be showcasing their products and services.
What are a couple of the coolest accomplishments you can point to over the years?
A major accomplishment was when we received our first 4-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2005. I was so proud. The staff and volunteers worked very hard on the application, and the approval really re-affirmed the work we’re doing in the community. It’s also a great self-assessment tool, so it’s been important to continue the re-accreditation process and get the bragging that goes with it.
The notes I’ve received from people thanking me for helping them with an issue or for encouraging them to get involved with the Chamber have been highlights in my career. It’s nice to know that I’ve made a difference.
What was the biggest disappointment?
I’m always disappointed when businesses drop their membership and tell us they didn’t get anything out of being a member. Most businesses have to give a little to see the benefit, and if they don’t attend events or put brochures in our offices or use our email newsletter, Business Online, they might think that. But, our Business Directory on the website has a Google map right to their front door. People like to do business with people they know and trust, so getting out there is important. On the other hand, we have members who only pay their dues each year so that we can continue to be their advocate and promote their business in the community.
Has the chamber been active enough in guiding the future of the county?
Yes. Over the years our members and I have served on just about every county and city working group from Charlotte Assembly, Charter Review Commission, Sales Tax Referendum, Vote Yes for Success, Enterprise Development Partnership, Tourist Development Council, TEAMs, and I could go on and on. We’ve been in the room and have spoken up about important issues, even if it’s made some members unhappy. I actually got yelled at by someone in the audience after I spoke in support of a workforce housing project. It was a proud moment for me.
Has it been good to have more than one strong chamber, with many of the same members, in Charlotte County?
I think a little friendly competition keeps you sharp. The three chambers, Realtors and builders meet every quarter and we share information and ideas on ways to help our members’ businesses grow. We all want to see a successful Charlotte County so that we can continue to be successful.
Was Hurricane Charley the greatest single challenge to the Chamber and the community?
We did some of our best work after Charley. I recall going door to door taping bridge loan information on broken front doors of businesses. But we weren’t alone. Everyone was focused on getting day care centers and schools open, and then we worked together to figure out what we wanted our “new” community to look like. The best part to me is that many of those post-Charley partnership are still going today.
Any personal goals for the next 20 years?
I want a happy, healthy family, and I wouldn’t mind being a grandmother down the road (no pressure, Kate). I plan to volunteer in the new year, in my new community and I’m excited and a bit anxious about all of it.
Do you have any advice for Teri Ashley, the new executive director?
Teri has the chamber in her heart, so she’ll be just fine.