VENICE — The Venice Area Chamber of Commerce is feeling better after a half-year of pandemic that interrupted business around the globe.

No business was immune to the disturbance, but officials were feeling upbeat about the response in the Venice area.

When COVID-19 started shutting down the world and local economy in February and March, the chamber got to work to minimize financial damage.

“We will emerge Chamber strong,” Chamber President Kathy Lehner recalled, setting forth the mission at the annual meeting and installation of officers held Friday at Plantation Golf & Country Club.

Lehner hosted the luncheon and spoke about the chamber’s efforts to keep businesses strong.

The Shop Local Campaign was a big success that began in June, she said. The contest gave consumers the opportunity to win $1,000 during three months.

The total of $3,000 was donated by the 2019-20 Chamber Board of Directors, she noted.

The push led to about $2.5 million in receipts for area businesses.

The chamber would also help with mask distribution and working with the county and businesses for about $4 million in grant funding to help fight financial hurt to businesses.

“Next up is the CARES Act,” Lehner said.

The chamber has set up personnel to help walk business owners through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

She said up next is “focus on the future: a mission-driven focus ... and opportunities for all of our members in 2021.”

And continue to work with others.

“Collaboration has been a huge part for us this year,” she said.

She also spoke about the five Positivity Walls that have been established around Venice and the area. They will stay up until Thanksgiving, and then the Venice Arts Center will take the project to its next step.

“Exciting things are still to come,” she said.


Immediate Past Chair Tony Moore spoke about the oddity of 2020. There were, originally, much different plans, he said.

But then coronavirus began.

“A lot of us didn’t know what was going to happen,” he recalled. “A lot of us didn’t know if we’d still be in business.”

Moore complimented everything the chamber did to respond to COVID-19 on a business and community level.

He also honored the chamber’s Volunteer of the Year, Mark Rawlinson.

Rawlinson was unable to be at the event, so a cutout was set up. The audience cheered as the chamber’s Tara Baskinger recorded a video, sweeping from right to left inside the facility.

Committee leaders Angela Balsinger-Snyder, Nick Choat, Luis Cruz-Klein and Lisa Thaxton were lauded for their upcoming work.

Incoming Board of Directors Chair Debbie LaPinska lauded Moore and plans for the future.

“The chamber is truly incredible,” LaPinksa said.

Along with LaPinksa, Lehner and Moore, other 2020-21 Board of Director officers are Seth von Marschall, of Appliance Specialist LLC; and Sandra Pridemore, of Sandra K. Pridemore, CPA.

Other members of the board are Michael Bacon, BrewBurgers; Michael Beatty, Venice Gondolier; Dane DeSantis, Hallmark Business Brokers; Jess Fronckowiak, J2 Solutions; David Joyner, Joyner Family Insurance; Randy Kendrick, Venice Print Center; Mary Elizabeth Petty, AAA Insurance — Venice Branch; Tish Scott-Murphy, Sable Palm Bank; Tiffany Twigg, Bright Realty and Chuck Walker, Alliance IT/Ring Authority.

LaPinksa, senior vice president for human resources for PGT, called 2020-21 the year of Progressively Growing Talent.

She noted she started working at PGT Innovations in 1991 and came up from customer service because bosses saw her potential.

LaPinksa said she hopes other leaders look toward their workforce to help younger employees.

“I’m so excited about Progressively Growing Talent because I experienced it myself,” she said.

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