Southwest Florida Business Alliance

By: Butch Swank –

There’s a saying I’ve always found interesting: Nature hates a vacuum. In essence, it means if something was in a place and now isn’t, something else is absolutely going to fill that place. It does not matter why it went away. What matters is the empty place is going to be filled. This occurs not just in nature but also in business, real estate, education, athletics, grocery stores, libraries, and so on. If you think about it for just one minute, you’ll probably come up with a bunch more examples than I just did. It is a universal concept that applies to everything. I guess that’s why the term was coined as Nature hating that vacuum because Nature covers all the bases.

I say this because nearly three years ago, my friend Katrina Salokar, who owns Paradise Creative Group, and I were at my office talking. We were basically whining about how local businesses were no longer connected. They no longer talked to each other. They didn’t refer business to each other because nobody knew each other anymore. Most businesses didn’t do much except keep their heads down and simply try to survive. Katrina and I were in that very same boat. Looking back, and to be fair, COVID had drastically changed how all people (both customers and providers) did business, and that leaned mostly towards interacting as little as possible with each other. This leads to another saying I love: Patterns repeat themselves.

The trick with patterns is they are not always easily identified. Some are obvious, like your teenager not waking up in a joyous mood. Others are not quite as obvious. Now, back to Butch and Katrina whining. What was obvious to us was that something was wrong but seeing the pattern was less clear to us. That’s when we realized that businesses suddenly had no formal organization to help stitch back together the networks they once had. Unlike in the past, there were no central places or groups for them to gather and ask for advice, promote their business, share a laugh, or even just having someone familiar with you to gripe to and they’d get it. I’m not a trained psychologist, but I’m fairly confident in stating that being alone sucks. In prison, there’s a reason they punish prisoners with solitary confinement. We humans are just not wired to operate alone, and the business community was unintentionally punishing itself with isolation.

Katrina and I whining was not a behavior pattern either of us felt comfortable with and certainly didn’t want to repeat. (I can’t believe I’m publicly stating we were whining. Katrina’s going to kick me when she reads this! Thankfully, I’m taller than her, so please pray for my leg and hind end.) Whining might make you feel better temporarily, but it very rarely makes the situation better. So, like the red-blooded American entrepreneurs we are, we stopped and focused on solving the problem. After some study, we identified there were no solid organizations to lean on. Sure, there were some here or there, but the vibe they had just didn’t feel right. Keep in mind, building something from scratch is far harder than fixing something that’s already there. That route would be both faster and easier, but again, none of their vibes felt “right.” We discussed this fact, then did some mental and emotional math, and decided to instead start our own thing to ensure it had our mentality in its DNA from the get-go.

Enter the Southwest Florida Business Alliance. It was originally planned to just represent the East side of Lee County because that’s where we saw the most need. However, by the end of our first year, we had businesses ranging from Marco Island to Tampa as members. It was astonishing, and still is, to be frank, how well received the message was. I think, more importantly, the execution of our plan is what has truly led to this success. We came up with some core principles and have stuck with them. Southwest Florida Business Alliance membership is now in the hundreds, and, seeing this pattern, I imagine it will just continue to grow. I write all this to say clearly that if you are a business owner, if you know one, are an executive, or are a person with ambition and a drive to succeed, we want you. We’ve been able to accomplish some amazing things together. We’re helping to steer smarter growth in Southwest Florida. We’re helping to share with people in power that things like the capacity of our roads must be taken into consideration before greenlighting yet another development. We’re working with the Economic Development Office and providing the insight they would not have had without these new eyes participating. The EDO has been so open and welcoming, and for that, we are truly grateful. We offer value, and that means something. Good things are already here, and the future looks even brighter. Our recipe is simple: get some good people in a room, talk, come up with actionable decisions, and implement them.  If you have the same mentality, please reach out to us. We would love to speak with you! Visit or call 239-470-5611

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