CLEWISTON — U.S. Sugar announced its longtime Senior Vice President, Public Affairs Robert Coker plans to retire effective December 31, 2023. Clewiston native and current Vice President, Governmental Affairs Eric Edwards, who has been working alongside Coker for the past seven years, will assume his responsibilities in state, federal and local governmental efforts.
“By all measures, Robert Coker has done an outstanding job in managing U.S. Sugar’s public affairs efforts over the last 42 years as well as always looking out for the best interests of our employees and our community,” said President and CEO Kenneth W. McDuffie. “He earned a reputation as a man of honor and integrity from the Glades to Tallahassee, to Washington, D.C and beyond.”
McDuffie noted some of Coker’s impact:
Robert has been a key part of defeating or greatly diminishing the negative impacts of many legislative and regulatory threats to our business as well as managing the politics of limiting potentially devastating trade impacts in NAFTA and other foreign trade agreements. He was instrumental to efforts surrounding the Everglades Forever Act, the Penny-A-Pound sugar tax amendments, the River of Grass Acquisition, and Senate Bill 10. He also helped craft and gain approval of more than ten federal farm bills, the Mexican Suspension Agreements, several Right to Farm Acts on both state and national levels, and a multitude of strategic water rules and regulations (including CERP & CEPP) that help support agriculture and science-based restoration. In addition, he secured significant cost-share resources that improved and upgraded our railroad transportation infrastructure. These achievements have ensured that Robert Coker’s legacy will live on for decades to come.
“As a corporate officer and a valued member of our senior leadership team, Robert has been actively engaged in strategic corporate decisions from environmental regulation to real estate for more than two decades,” McDuffie said. “His advice and counsel has been greatly appreciated by the senior management team, CEO and our board of directors.”
Coker first joined U.S. Sugar in 1982 as part of the Community Affairs Department. He was promoted to Vice President, Community Affairs in 1993 and to Senior Vice President, Public Affairs in 2000. He also has been responsible for overseeing the company’s corporate communications and corporate and charitable giving programs as well as numerous community and employee-relations activities. He holds a bachelor’s in political science from Florida State University.
Coker has been recognized as the Ag Lobbyist of the Year multiple times and named to Florida Trends’ Florida 500 and Influence Magazine’s 150 for top business leaders. U.S. Sugar has been fortunate that Coker and the political team he assembled have worked together so well over the years, successfully advocating on issues that have been critical to the success of our Company, our industry, and our rural community. Through his efforts, the Company’s charitable giving program has grown into one has an impact well beyond traditional financial contributions--one that truly partners with community organizations, expanding U.S. Sugar’s philanthropic reach from coast to coast.
In addition, McDuffie gave Coker credit for being the Company’s most ardent and enthusiastic shaper, supporter and benefactor of the Clewiston Sugar Festival, increasing its attendance to more than 20,000 along with making U.S. Sugar’s agri-tourism steam locomotive, the Sugar Express a public relations success.
“Robert Coker has been called a legend in the political arena, and that’s a pretty good summation of his career,” McDuffie said.
Coker and his wife Mendy have a son Chris (Jenny), two daughters, Michelle and Melanie (Greg) and four grandchildren. He and his wife reside in Stuart and Tallahassee.