The spotlight at the LaBelle Chamber of Commerce banquet Monday night was on one who never seeks that spotlight. Andy Higginbotham always keeps his hands and his mind busy, making sure the practical support details are perfect in whatever job he takes on. Andy recently retired as a chamber director after serving since about 1995, probably the longest serving chamber director in its history. Chamber President Joe Timm first characterized Andy as a “rock . . . solid, steadfast, always there when you need it” and asked the audience to congratulate Andy for a job well done.
That wasn’t the end of the recognition, though, because the accounting firm Andy has grown over the years was also named Business of the Year.
Andy got into accounting with Bob Coleman in Immokalee in 1981 after graduating from Florida Atlantic University. He later took the helm of the LaBelle office, and ultimately became sole owner of the LaBelle practice. He added a partner, Chris Soud, and then a third, Kyndel Murray. A business and community leader, Andy “leads by example,” President Timm said.
Today known as LaBelle CPAs, the firm remains not just successful but, like the man who has grown it, a solid supporter of the community.
But it still wasn’t over because this same “rock,” this leader, this family man and community supporter was also named 2015 LaBelle Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. Andy has the strength, energy and the knack to make things happen.
Along with the chamber, Andy’s heart and hard work have supported the LaBelle Rotary Club, where he is a charter member,; his church Carlson Memorial United Methodist Church; and the girls varsity golf team at Southwest Florida Christian Academy as an assistant coach.
In addition to the man himself, President Timm credited Andy’s wife Kristi with unwaivering support for him and his activities.
“Andy, your leadership and your community spirit is second-to-none. You set an example we all can follow . . . if there were more people like you on this earth, the world would be a better place.”
For his Chamber President message, Joe noted that the chamber is strong and actively working to better the lives of its members. He explained that in the past year the chamber has put a “laser focus” on a specific vision “to improve the overall business climate and quality of life for Western Hendry County area through programs of sponsorship of programs that promote, facilitate and stimulate economic growth, civic participation and development, business advocacy and education.”
He announced that the chamber has made the tough decision to discontinue its Christmas in the Park activity, saying it would need full sponsorship to continue the very popular but expensive activity.
He continued by saying that the chamber is in a very good position to serve its members. He offered thanks to Carmen Corbitt, who recently left her position as executive director and announced that Nancy Imhoff and Diane Fidanza are now sharing those duties.
He then turned to the keynote speaker for the night. Noting that Walmart is coming to town. It will be a change, he said, but local business must use change to its advantage, embrace it as an opportunity. He used the examples of McDonalds and Starbucks, two major companies that met new challenges and came out stronger for it.
It was then time for keynote speaker Samantha Scott, President of Pushing the Envelope, Inc., an award winning, marketing communications firm based in Fort Myers. Her message expanded on President Timm’s words about local business using Walmart as an opportunity.
She suggested that local businesses use their ability to connect with people in a way big box stores cannot. Find out about your customers, she said, ask people what they like, know where your audience is and know their needs. “It’s about what your customer wants,” she told the audience.
She added that business owners need to have a plan where they’re going and even pool resources when possible. She also noted that all your employees are ambassadors along with your customers, so you would do well to make customer service - in and out of the business - a priority.
She touched on how social media can help and how it cannot and suggested that business owners make the effort to put their best foot forward, spending a little money for new business cards or even a new sign. Research your competitors, she advised. Use your local advantage by word of mouth; go where your customers are; be part of the community and support your neighbors at sports events and so on.