Michael Dalby is a Naples newcomer on a mission to help businesses expand and grow. As the new president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 1,600 members, he’s in prime position to be involved in those success stories.
Dalby, who started in March, is no stranger to chamber work. He’s held leadership roles in chambers in New Mexico, Texas, Indiana and Ohio, and is involved in the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the International Economic Development Council.
A U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and 12-year Air Force veteran, who earned his master’s degree from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dalby discussed his impressions of the business scene in Naples and his hopes for economic growth.
What skills that you developed in the Air Force do you bring into your chamber work? A lot of the work in the Air Force was intelligence analysis. You took in pieces of information from different sources and tried to bring it all together. Naples is a pretty unique economy, being a coastal community and a coastal region, but at the same time you can’t just assume it’s like every other coastal region. You have to really do your homework. The role of a chamber of commerce is to be constantly engaged with the economy of the region. We’re constantly watching the economy. In many ways, we are stewards of the economy.
What has surprised you about the area? It’s surprising to learn how much agriculture plays a part. As the country becomes more aware of organically grown and farm-to-table [foods], this is a great area for that. The part that also surprised me is how many technology-based businesses we have here. They may only have a handful of employees, but they’re using technology. We refer to these as non-geographically based businesses. If you have a business that you can operate from your laptop and you can live anywhere, why not live in Southwest Florida?
What’s your best accomplishment with past chambers? I’ve always worked to have a strong public policy arm. We’ve learned in chamber work that much of our economic growth happens from our smalland mid-sized businesses. About 85 percent of our businesses here have 30 or fewer employees. Our job is to help them thrive and grow.
The chamber has been without a leader for several months. How will you bring stability? You make sure that you reach out to all the different people that have an interest in the chamber. I had 65-plus one-on-one meetings [in the first three months] with business, not-for-profit and government leaders in the area. We’re not just a business development organization; we’re a community development organization.