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Minding businesses

Maria Simmons joined the Maitland Chamber of Commerce executive director in July 2011.

Maria Simmons joined the Maitland Chamber of Commerce executive director in July 2011.

Carmen Carroquino

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With the fresh gold paint already dry on the walls of her office, Maria Simmons is settling into her job as the new executive director of the Maitland Chamber of Commerce.

On Monday, she officially began her mission to provide for the Chamber’s 300 members and do more with less while harnessed by a tight budget.

She has been the city of Casselberry’s recreation division manager since February 2008, and will continue her work there through October, while handling her new role in Maitland.

“The job entailed being with a community and interacting with residents of all ages,” Simmons said. “I love doing things with a community.”

Taking the next step

Wanting to utilize new technology and social media, Simmons is all about bringing the Chamber up to the next level and looking for ways to expand its outreach and communication in and around Maitland.

Simmons replaces Mary Hodge, who held the position for 11 years. Hodge formally resigned in February, feeling that her time at the Chamber had run its course. She stayed on until the end of April, when a search began for her replacement.

Fearful to hire someone who would create too much change and growth the city wasn’t ready for, Denise Beumer, president of the Chamber and vice president of BB&T’s Maitland office, said she was very cautious and honest about moving at a pace Maitland could handle in selecting the right candidate for the job.

“We wanted to go to the next level, utilizing technology and what not, because we’re a bit behind other cities, but we were leery about making a giant leap we weren’t ready for,” Beumer said. “Maria is just enough of the leap we were looking for.”

Beating out nine other hopefuls for the job, as well as impressing the Chamber every step of the way through phone and in-person interviews, Simmons was a breath of fresh air to the Chamber, Beumer said.

“She brings a level of excitement and renewal that hasn’t been in the Chamber for a while,” she said. “I got the impression right away that if she doesn’t know you, she’ll know you very soon, which is great for working with members.”

Enhancing Maitland’s image

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The Maitland Chamber of Commerce sign is one of several areas of the old building that are in need of repair.

Knowing Simmons was with the city of Casselberry when they started doing their branding and figuring out the city’s identity, Beumer said knew she wanted her to help do the same for Maitland.

Among helping launch Casselberry’s current website in 2008 and creating an e-newsletter for the city, Simmons created popular events during her time there to raise funds for the arts, which she is a big proponent of, making her a good fit for events such as the Maitland Spring Festival of the Arts and the Taste of Maitland, Beumer said.

One event was a jazz festival, featuring Latin jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, which took place in February. El Sentinel partnered with the city to sponsor the event.

Another is the annual Swing “Fore” the Arts Golf Tournament event that Simmons helped implement in 2006. To date, the tournament has raised more than $30,000 for the city’s arts programs.

Focusing on the members

Simmons said she would like to bring a golf tournament fundraiser to Maitland for city leaders and chamber members in and around Orange County to build stronger relationships with one another and work together to improve the county.

“Every individual brings something to the table, and you never know what that will be,” she said. “The goal we should have is working for the people and bringing a good light and recognition to our cities.”

A renewed focus on educational programs and seminars for businesses and individual members of the chamber — tools to survive tough economic times — will also be a priority.

Well wishes

When it comes to providing for the members, former Director Hodge said, “… You have to show them you can provide them a service and give them a reason to keep coming back.”

Sad to see Simmons go, Mark Gisclar, public works director of the city of Casselberry and Simmons’ supervisor, had nothing but praises for her, calling her more of a friend than an employee.

“Maria was a big part of enhancing Casselberry’s image and getting its name recognized,” Gisclar said. “We’ll miss her, but we wish her the very best.”

Learn more

Visit the Maitland Chamber of Commerce website at www.maitlandchamber.com