Rising Leaders: Let's Do This

In a poll of our next generation of leaders, we identify community problems that most need solving and offer the best of their solutions.

BY December 3, 2014


Last year, Gulfshore Life asked a panel of 200 elected officials, business leaders and community activists: What does Southwest Florida need? Our responses ranged from inter-county cooperation to dealing with aging better to more waterfront dining.

This year, after meeting with the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and Florida Next, we decided to look to our next generation of leaders not only to target what we need but also to offer action plans to address those problems. Those two organizations are holding an ideas forum this month in Naples (see sidebar) where winning ideas get the funding for a start-up. One of our goals was to identify the most promising idea to present to this gathering.

We polled more than 400 people, culling from the alumni of the annual 40-Under-40 list created by our sister publication Gulfshore Business and various young executive committees from local charities. Here are the most compelling voices we heard from—including our favorite proposal for consideration at the forum.


David Plazas

digital engagement editor, The News-Press

Better Transportation Options:

Discussion historically has centered around public transportation, but if one looks at the stats, the bus system in the area is heavily subsidized and not necessarily that well-used. A big part of the problem is the time it takes to get a bus (usually once an hour). This is an opportunity to incent an Uber or Uber-like concept to deliver people to where they want to go at a reason- able cost—and when they want to be picked up and dropped off at the touch of an app. It’s a combo of real-time requests for transportation options in case somebody wanted to go from Coconut Point to downtown Fort Myers for ArtWalk, for example.

WiFi Across Southwest Florida: This is an idea I initially heard advocated by Christine Ross of the Bonita Springs Greater Chamber of Commerce, but it’s a good one. Local governments should invest in a strategy that grants Wi-Fi to cover the entire area, starting with Lee and Collier and maybe expanding further. Local governments could pursue grants and also propose fee or tax increases. While the latter is not popular, it’s an investment in our future, to bridge the digital gap among the haves and have-nots, especially in the school system, and induce more companies to come here and expand—and more young people to stay. Some companies say our workforce is not qualified for tomorrow’s jobs. Let’s get them there.


Zach Katkin

president, Atilus

Social Network for the Business Community: It’s clear that small business and innovation are at the core of our society and help drive economic and social improvement over time. However, there seems to be a gap between the idea (of a business, product or service) and successful and effective implementation. It’s this gap that we’re proposing closing. Fortunately in Southwest Florida, we have the talent, experience and capital—in the form of retirees—to help drive long-term business development and innovation if they were only more connected to young professionals.

We suggest building a social network for the local business community to help connect seasoned business professionals with young upstart businesses, plus second-stage businesses that are struggling with growth and next steps and those looking for personal, or professional, mentors. It’s clear the retirement community has a wealth of knowledge, and with the right tools to connect these two audiences—seasoned entrepreneurs, business managers and retired professionals with the growing younger population of students, young professionals and entrepreneurs—great things will happen. This social network would act almost like a professional dating service (which we actually have experience building in the education sector), connecting these two audiences.


Chad Jensen

creative director, Thomas Riley Studio

Urban Garden: Find a land owner/ developer to donate a plot of land, then clean and enrich the soil and initiate an urban garden for harvesting flowers, fruits and vegetables. Perhaps all, or a portion, of the harvested food goes to needy families. Perhaps small plots are sold inexpensively to families/individuals and the money goes to charity, as does a small portion of their harvest; maybe flowers go to hospitals and senior centers.


Marisa Cleveland

literary assistant, The Seymour Agency

Bike Paths: Naples is known for beautiful beaches and sunny weather. With an abundance of outdoor activities, it’s sad that broader bicycle paths are not established for couples to ride side by side, or even single-file, safely. The bike lanes are narrow or nonexistent, and where there are bike paths, they are disconnected or short-lived. Where are the miles and miles of open greenways? I have a bike, want to use it, but am afraid of being hit. Last year the Collier County Sheriff ’s Office re- ported 99 accidents between bikes and cars and 49 pedestrian accidents.


Maura Metheny

chocolatier/head of design and innovation, Norman Love Confections

More Covered Playgrounds: It gets so hot during the summer and, having small children, it becomes
a challenge to keep them out of the blazing sun. There are so many wonderful playgrounds, but so few are shaded or covered—which is very important with our unpredictable rain and strong sun. This is my constant refrain when playing in the summer here in Southwest Florida.


Want to know how the event went? Check out our recap on the Along the Gulfshore blog.


Related Images: