The new Greater Lehigh Area Chamber of Commerce's new interim president and CEO, Inke Schirrmacher-Baker, said today she is excited to take over the reins of the community chamber and has plans to help make the chamber grow and to work toward her theme of "team work."
"When we work together for a common goal and in this instance, it is to make the chamber better and to bring all the community's business leaders together, nothing can stop us from being successful," Baker said.
Baker, who has become well-known in the few years she has lived in Lehigh, was executive assistant under the past two presidents.
Cindy Dodd, the chairwoman of the chamber's Board of Directors said Baker has a clear plan on how to improve the chamber and connect better with our members. We are happy to promote her. She has the support of the board of directors and we are looking forward to working with her in this new position.
The announcement after the board met in a retreat a few weeks ago.
Baker has been the executive assistant for more than three years. She is the past president of the Rotary Club of Lehigh Acres and is the vice president of the Lehigh Acres Architectural Review Board and a 2010 graduate of the Leadership Lehigh program.
Before coming to Lehigh, Baker worked for more than 17 years in the retail industry in Europe. She was the vice president of indirect sales and oversaw the work of some 300 retail people.
This background that Baker brings, she believes, will set her apart inasmuch as because she has come to love Lehigh and its people, that she can bring the community together.
Again, those words "Team Work" is what Baker aspires to. She has been a very active chamber leader in her role, taking part in past plans for events and for the monthly luncheons for chamber members hold each month at Bistro Rudy.
In her office, attached on the wall, are two quotes that she sees every time she looks up from her desk. One is by Michael Korda, an author, which reads: "In order to succeed we must first believe that we can." The other was spoken by Albert Einstein who said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
"Those words give me confidence in myself and what I believe and they are so true. When we work together separate of petty politics in our community, we can do anything at this chamber."
Baker spent the weekend packing up boxes of items in her former office and moved them into the president's office, just down the hall in the chamber offices in the Lehigh Towne Center.
She became the official interim president and CEO effective Dec. 3 and the position of interim will likely turn to permanent in January when the new board of directors are sworn in. They become new members of the board officially on Jan. 1. There are two new members on the board this coming year. This year, the annual gala affair will be held in January at the Pelican Preserve on Colonial Blvd. A committee is working on the details.
Baker moved to the U.S. in 2002 but had been here on vacation in 1992 and took the time to travel the mid to southern part of the state. She said she knew instantly that she wanted to live in Florida to get away from the cold area of northern Germany, where "sometimes we had a little snow." She said it was colder there because of the closeness of the Scandinavia countries.
"Like a lot of others, I loved the temperatures, how sunny it was and the palm trees," she laughed. "It was different than Hamburg, Germany."
She has enjoyed sailing and says the team work it takes to sail shows how successful a group can be if they work together one of her objectives in her new position.
As the head of the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, she plans to become familiar with all of the 250 to 300 members of the chamber, although she knows most of them already.
"I want a relationship on a personal level, to listen to their business needs and have face to face meetings to help them become successful," she said. "We have the resources here and we are planning more business seminars in the future for the betterment of our Lehigh business people."
One of the first events she and others are planning is a residential Christmas Lighting competition. Call 369-3322 for more details.
Baker says the 19 volunteers who take care of the front desk at the office and other duties that they perform are priceless.
"We have some of the best volunteers at this chamber and they help us make it all work," she said.
The Lehigh chamber is a member of both the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
While Baker knows many of the "shakers and doers" in Lee County, she plans to make as many contacts as she can. She already has a good working relationship with Commissioner Frank Mann of Alva, who represents Lehigh. And there are others on the county commission who are showing interest in helping Lehigh, among them the new Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, who has attended chamber luncheons.
Baker who will be the emcee of the monthly luncheons, held on the last Tuesday of the month at 11:30 a.m., beginning again in February, says plans are underway to honor a firefighter of the month.
"Our firefighters are some of the greatest and we know they do good things, not only fighting fires, but as EMTs and we want to show them our gratitude in what they do," she said. The honors a Lehigh sheriff's officer, a member of the month, a volunteer of the month, and an employee of the month.
She wants to encourage those in the community who have excellent employees to nominate them. They don't have to be chamber members, but Baker would hope they would look at the chamber and become involved.
Jim Kreger, president of the Community Council of Lehigh Acres, has already asked her to sit in on their meetings as a representative of the chamber.
She has kept up with the future planning of Lehigh and has spent the past year meeting with people like Kathy Ebaugh, a county principal planner, who has helped to create a plan for future Lehigh.
Baker has been at the Saturday meetings for months and can tell you how the first project, a community center plan on Homestead Road, is shaping up. Money has been allocated to begin the project hopefully next year. She is aware of plans for the future of Lehigh, including the roundabouts that are also planned for the community.
"I just want to get everyone involved, to make our community the great place that we know it is. I want to get everyone involved in our chamber and with team work, we can do great things," she said.