It’s been a year since Lakeland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Amy Wiggins stepped into that role. We sat down with the Chamber president to discuss the past year, her career, Lakeland’s female leaders, and the women who influenced her along the way.
Growing up in Plant City before the town had a movie theater led to plenty of time spent in Lakeland. Wiggins fell in love with the community and attended school at Florida Southern College, where she earned a degree in religion with a concentration on Christian education. She now lives in Lakeland with her husband of nine years, Michael Guerrero, and their retired greyhound.
After college Wiggins joined the YMCA of West Central Florida as the teen development director. She emphasized the impact of her time working for then YMCA of West Central Florida President and CEO Alice Collins and what she learned about volunteer management. “She was always so encouraging to me to get involved,” Wiggins said of Collins.
Collins’ encouragement spurred a recurring theme of civic engagement in Wiggins’ life. She is the past president of the Polk Arts Alliance and the Polk County Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for Lakeland and Polk Vision and is a member of the Lakeland Mayor’s Council on the Arts.
Following her time at the YMCA, Wiggins served as a membership executive for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and for five years as their vice president of communications. She left the Chamber to join the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra (previously the Imperial Symphony Orchestra) as executive director in 2015, where she stayed for seven years. The Symphony gave Wiggins proximity to music and the arts – an interest since she was young. She loved ballet growing up but gave that up in favor of marching band, becoming the drum major in her junior high school band.
“I love music, and I love the arts, and I recognize how important arts and culture are to a community,” Wiggins said. “If we’re not directly involved on a personal level every day, we tend to take for granted how much music means to us, or how important it is to have an outstanding parks and recreation system, or how beautiful it is to look at a mural, but it’s nice to be awe-inspired on occasion. I think it’s good for our health.”
Last March, Wiggins rejoined the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce as President and CEO. She hit the ground running, hiring people and creating new positions, and fully staffing the Chamber as of January 1, 2023. “I’m proud of the folks that we’ve brought on,” Wiggins said. “We’ve created several new positions to help us meet the mission of the Chamber a little more intentionally.”
One such new position belongs to Director of Business Resources, Takiyah Dixon. “It is her job to aggregate and promote all of the resources and educational workshops that are available to our business community,” Wiggins said. “There are so many free resources available to small business owners that folks don’t know about. If we can do a better job of promoting those, then that helps our small businesses become more successful and more competitive.”
Under Wiggins, the Chamber has also partnered with Lakeland Vision to bring back the Education Committee, which aims to “identify current resource gaps, connect stakeholders to education partners with clear goals, expectations, and processes, and to promote “good news” stories of educational success and partnership milestones.”
“Lakeland Vision has had an Education Committee just about since its inception, and the Chamber really has too, but we had kind of gotten away from that,” Wiggins said. “We know that we are growing our future workforce. It’s critically important for them to have the skills – both technical skills and critical thinking skills – that are going to make them great employees and want to stay in our community. The more engaged our businesses can be in developing the curriculum and letting the kids and parents know that they care about them, the better off we’re all going to be.” The Chamber president also noted the value of sharing the success of local schools with one example. “Students engaged in fine arts in Polk County Schools have a 100 percent graduation rate – that’s something we should be shouting from the rooftops. That’s incredible.”
Last year, the Chamber also launched a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to “educate, lead and influence businesses on creating diverse workforces, inclusive workplaces and equitable opportunities that help all communities thrive.” Wiggins said the Committee is “focusing on how we better connect our small businesses with our large purchasers. What are we doing to build those relationships, but also what are we doing to strengthen our small businesses so they’re in a place where they can be competitive in bidding for large contracts.”
WOMEN LEADERS IN LAKELAND
“We are fortunate here in Lakeland to have an incredible network of women leaders who are supportive and encouraging,” Wiggins said. While attending a groundbreaking ceremony the week prior, the Chamber president stood in a row amongst a commanding group of women – Commissioner Stephanie Madden, Senior Vice President of the LEDC Katie Worthington Decker, LDDA Executive Director Julie Townsend, and CRA Manager Valerie Ferrell. “More than one person commented on what a powerhouse row that was, and I don’t know that we’ve ever been in that space before. It’s really exciting that regardless of who we are, we’re being celebrated as leaders and difference-makers in the community. I’m excited about my peers,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins raved about her ten years working at the Chamber with Kathleen Munson. “There are very few women in this community that have had a greater impact on, especially the business community and Lakeland’s quality of life, than Kathleen. I have incredible respect for her, and I really do owe her a lot. As a mentor, she helped me learn things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, which I think is always a tremendous mark of a mentor.”
The Lakeland Chamber president had advice for young women with sights set on leadership, including maintaining integrity and staying true to yourself. “The hardest lesson to learn – and I say this as someone who is still learning it – is listening. [...] I think about the people that have been in rooms with me who have garnered the most respect, and they are often the folks who said the least,” Wiggins said. “We as women have such unique abilities to process information and to notice things. One of our superpowers is listening, noticing, and paying attention. The more we do that, the more we can bring people together in consensus. I think we’re in a space now in our community that we need to do that.”
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