Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance thrives as it turns 20

The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance is on the cusp of a significant milestone: it turns 20 years old in 2025.

Local construction executive David Otterness hasn’t been a part of the Business Alliance since those early days, but, as its board chairman, he’s positioned to play a big role in its next decade and beyond.

A board member since 2021, Otterness is the 2024 board chair of the Business Alliance. The 25-member board is a hands-on group of civic, nonprofit and for-profit business leaders and Otterness, a project executive with Willis A. Smith Construction, is the orchestra conductor leading them all together. “I’m the type of person,” Otterness says, “that if I’m going to get involved in something, I’m going to give 100% of my time and commitment.”

The list of people who have been board chair of the Business Alliance is an all-star who’s who of Lakewood Ranch business leaders. It includes Fawley Bryant Architecture COO and Partner Amanda Parrish and Grapevine Communications President and CEO Allison Imre. The past chair is Shutts & Bowen attorney Erik Hanson and the 2025 chair-elect is Julie Fanning, head of marketing for Benderson Development, the developer behind the UTC mall shopping district and many other properties in the region.

In the middle lies Otterness, who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of Florida. He joined Willis Smith right after leaving Gainesville, when the builder was based in Sarasota and doing some $10 million a year in revenue. Today Willis Smith, based in Lakewood Ranch, does about $143 million a year in revenue and is behind some of the most notable projects in the region, including multiple projects on the Lakewood Ranch campus of Out-of-Door Academy; Waterside Place in Lakewood Ranch; and the Mote Marine Science Education Aquarium at UTC. Otterness, 43, is a senior leader at the company.

“Willis Smith encourages people to be on boards, and to be part of something you’re passionate about,” says Otterness, who lives in Mill Creek with his wife and two daughters and has also served on the board of Easter Seals. “If you are part of this community, and live in this community, why wouldn’t you want to be involved?”

Otterness has multiple goals as Business Alliance board chair, all wrapped under one overarching vision: to create and foster an environment where Lakewood Ranch companies and organizations are growing and hiring people — employees who in many cases grew up in the area. Otterness cites Business Alliance CEO Brittany Lamont as a great example of someone who grew up in Sarasota-Bradenton and is now an active leader in the community.

“We want more opportunities for people born and raised here,” Otterness says. “We want to get ready for what this community will look like in five, 10 and 20 years.”

One way there, he says, is to enhance and improve the Business Alliance’s pro-business voice both in the area and Tallahassee. The organization does that through its governmental affairs committee. “We don’t advocate for a person,” says Otterness, such as in individual state house or senate races. “We advocate for agendas and ideas.”

Another big goal? Pass $1 million in annual revenue. He says the organization, a nonprofit registered as a 501(c)(6), a federal tax code for chambers of commerce, real estate boards and similar groups, is  getting close to that milestone. If not this year, he projects it will happen in 2025. Otterness says the Business Alliance “has a great team, but we have to keep building the team, and we recognize that to do that we need to bring in more revenue.”

One final 2024 goal that aligns well with his overall vision is for the Business Alliance to make significant progress on achieving accreditation from the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals. It’s a three-year process, Lamont says, and this is the first year, sort of like a trial run. FACP accreditation, she says, will lend major credibility to the Business Alliance. “It’s a way to look inside your organization and know you are sound,” she says, “know you are at peak performance.”

Lamont says she’s sometimes asked if it’s difficult, given the organization’s structure, that she has a new boss — board chair — every year. She says it’s the opposite, that she instead gets to learn from and lean on accomplished people every year. One year she leaned on Imre for marketing, another year it was Hanson for legal procedure. She calls Otterness her ops guy.

“He’s total operations. He doesn’t feel like he has to be the smartest guy in the room, and he doesn’t speak unless he has something of value to say,” Lamont says. “I’m excited to be learning from him and his leadership style.”


Photo by Lori SaxDavid Otterness has been on the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance board since 2021.

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