By Anjali Fluker

Orlando Business Journal’s 2021 Central Florida Power Players recognizes 50 business leaders and executives who are helping grow and innovate the way business is done throughout the region.

Winners were chosen in five categories: Industry Giants, Disruptors, Deal Makers, Connectors and Heavy Hitters.

This article introduces the nine businesspeople who were chosen in the Connectors category: Those who bring key people to the table for important discussions, and who other business leaders have on their speed dial.

Learn more about the 2021 Power Players in OBJ’s Nov. 5-11, 2021, weekly edition. And read below for more on the Connectors:

Dick Batchelor

President/CEO, Dick Batchelor Management Group Inc.

  • Address: 618 E. South St., Ste. 500, Orlando 32801
  • Employees: Two
  • Industry: Professional services
  • Founded: 1985
  • Description: Dick Batchelor Management Group is a renowned consulting firm specializing in business development consulting, analysis, strategic governmental affairs, charitable organizations and public policy issues. It assists businesses, policymakers and community leaders in connecting the dots.

Top pandemic accomplishment: I took the time in working with my business development clients to successfully redirect their strategies to accommodate for disruptions in the marketplace. Fortunately, that strategy was successful in retaining my long-term clients, and such consulting also generated several additional new clients.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? Spending more time with my wife and three boys

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? The University Club Downtown Orlando

Pain points: The two overriding issues are employee hiring/retention and the [business] interruptions caused by supply chain interruptions.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? With my real estate license, I now am working with a major private equity group to acquire a number of different businesses. It teed up the opportunity for some businesses to sell their assets, and thus, continue to grow their businesses.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Start with the premise of, “There is always a way,” and focus on developing working relationships within the corporate world.

Mark Brewer

President/CEO, Central Florida Foundation Inc.

  • Address: 800 N. Magnolia Ave., Ste. 1200, Orlando 32803
  • Employees: 12
  • Industry: Philanthropy and nonprofits
  • Founded: 1994
  • Description: Central Florida Foundation stewards philanthropic dollars on behalf of individuals, families and nonprofits. Knowing that true change demands more than dollars and cents, the nonprofit fosters collaboration, fuels ideas and spearheads the innovation that will transform the region for good.

Top pandemic accomplishment: Working with partners to build a financial model to provide gap funding for affordable housing projects in Central Florida. The model is based on work done in other cities and includes partners around the region.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? My wife, Lisa, and I are training our second German Shepherd working dog as a volunteer therapy dog. He’ll be able to work in hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabs when he is certified. At 13 months, Blaze is a great companion and keeps me happy, while making many people happy with his work. Giving back to the community runs in the family.

Brewer and his dog, Blaze

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? I just recently started going to Reyes Mezcaleria again. I’ve missed the downtown lunch crowd there.

Pain points:

  • Helping nonprofits find new revenue streams and business models for their work
  • The changing philanthropy and impact investment markets. History doesn’t provide enough information about the future of capital.
  • Keeping major community initiatives and partnerships working at pace during the pandemic

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? My job is bringing charitable investors together with creative and innovative strategies. Working with an investor to bring more than $1 million to an innovative meal distribution system created a new way to serve people with food insecurity. The ability to find ways to continue services people rely on was critical during the pandemic. Moreover, helping change and expand business models was necessary for many nonprofits and social enterprises.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: The best business connections I have are interested in making the community a better place, so finding ways to do business with people who are interested in making a difference makes for a better business connection. I’m amazed at the number of people who are thinking about doing well by doing good. Most businesspeople in the region have a corporate social responsibility focus, and whenever we can get all three sectors to work together on solving community problems, there are ways to make a profit, do good and create the kind of community we all want.

Kelly Cohen

Managing partner, The Southern Group

  • Address: 100 S. Eola Drive, 2nd Fl., Orlando 32801
  • Headquarters: Tallahassee
  • Local employees: Four
  • Companywide employees: 41
  • Industry: Professional services, government relations
  • Founded locally: 2005
  • Description: Consulting firm that helps clients manage the blurred lines between government, business and constituencies by applying calculated influence through dynamic strategies that keep pace with societal trends and economic outlooks.

Top pandemic accomplishment: One of our core values is continuing to evolve and innovate. During such a tumultuous year, we wanted to act as an anchor for our clients and communities. Our team embraced and leveraged technology at a rapid pace to ensure we maintained the highest quality of service. We curated webinars with top-level business and government leaders, allowing our clients to hear directly about policies and challenges impacting their businesses. We created daily and weekly electronic content to ensure our partners could stay as informed and educated in real time.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? I try to exercise or at least move every day. It keeps me sane and has added benefit of weight loss. Also, I also have fallen in love with hiking.

Cohen enjoys the sunset in the highlands in North Carolina, accompanied by Oscar, her rescue Yorkie.

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? Kres

Pain points: Scheduling, protecting my calendar to ensure I can be productive for my clients and our company

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? We were added to Brightline government relations team. The high-speed [passenger] train connecting Miami to Orlando — and ultimately Tampa — is a significant investment in Florida’s connectivity. This privately led, sustainable and future-ready transportation network is a critical investment that will create jobs and allow Florida to remain competitive.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: In the modern work world, people are incredibly busy and over-scheduled. Try to be strategic and targeted when networking. If trying to make substantial connections versus going on fishing expeditions, ensure you are educated about your audience and be specific about your requests. Don’t start or introduce yourself by saying things like, “I want to pick your brain,” or “I see we have similar contacts and I would like to get to know you better.” Explain your value and why it would be helpful to create a relationship.

Angel de la Portilla

President, Central Florida Strategies Inc.

Angel de la Portilla
  • Address: 121 S. Orange Ave., Ste. 1500, Orlando 32801
  • Employees: Two
  • Industry: Government relations, professional services
  • Founded: 2008
  • Description: Firm specializing in local government consulting and public policy affairs

Top pandemic accomplishment: Shifting to a virtual meetings world

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? As my children are growing up, I am beginning to experience life as a soon-to-be empty nester. I enjoy taking weekend mini-vacations and staying at nice, upscale hotels.

De la Portilla enjoys the rooftop pool at The Ben, Autograph Collection in West Palm Beach.

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? Kres in downtown Orlando is my favorite local restaurant.

Pain points: I am in the relationship business, and it is impossible to network and meet new people on Zoom meetings.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? Kathleen Plinske. She became Valencia College’s president on July 1, 2021, and will lead Valencia through the most pivotal period in its 54-year history as the model in which education for many college students is shifting from traditional classrooms to virtual, as well as the workforce demand to learn new skills continues to accelerate.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Develop long-lasting relationships and build a great reputation.

Garry Jones

President, Full Sail University

Garry Jones
  • Address: 3300 University Blvd., Winter Park 32792
  • Employees: 2,200-plus
  • Industry: Higher education
  • Founded: 1979
  • Description: Full Sail University is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning institution for those pursuing careers in entertainment, media, arts and emerging technologies. It is a graduate and undergraduate degree-granting institution offering campus-based and online degree programs with more than 80,230 graduates worldwide.

Top pandemic accomplishment: A highlight was Full Sail’s collaboration with the community at the onset of the pandemic. Alongside Orange County, the OEP [Orlando Economic Partnership], UCF, and the Orlando Magic, Full Sail assumed a leadership role in supporting AdventHealth as they made contingency plans. The plan included key components, such as contributing to and determining large-scale buildings in which vast amounts of PPE would be stored as well as establishing potential locations in Central Florida where field hospitals could host hundreds of additional beds and the accompanying medical staff.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? I’m spending more time with the students, graduates and employees. Having the daily opportunity to be surrounded by creative students who are passionate about their career choices, and the staff and educators that humble me weekly with their commitment to these students and graduates constantly inspires me and drives me to be better for them tomorrow than I am today.

Which power lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? Thanks to the commitment of Central Florida restauranteurs, they were able to continue providing delicious food via takeout service for the citizens of our region. Although I missed the locations and being with the extraordinary hospitality staff members of our dining spots, we continued enjoying the fabulous food they provide throughout the pandemic.

Pain points: I have a deep, impassioned connection to the land and waters that all life depends upon throughout Central Florida. In 2019, the OEP forecasted the Orlando region is projected to add 1,500 new residents per week, and will reach a population of 5.2 million people by 2030. The expedited growth in Florida will have an undeniable negative impact on our region’s natural resources. We — universities, government, businesses, organizations — have the opportunity to work together to create sustainability strategies to address this need, including green spaces, water conservation efforts and establishing natural areas that will allow other species to exist tomorrow. Through the good work and leadership of entities and leaders, we can join hands and make a healthier place for the region’s people.

What was the biggest connection you made in the past year? In March of this year, Orlando Health and Full Sail announced an innovative partnership that included the naming rights to the university’s esports arena, formerly The Fortress, the largest collegiate esports arena in the U.S. The state-of-the-art facility now is known as the Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress. Orlando Health and Full Sail will collaborate on joint research projects focused on improving and understanding the performance factors for gamers. The effort will include creating a framework for the effective and ample care of esports athletes. The technical innovations within the facility coupled with the innovative ability of our students, staff and faculty is impressive. When partnered with the medical expertise of Orlando Health, this collaboration will help propel both collegiate and professional esports franchises into the future while further solidifying our region’s impact across the esports, research and the health care industries.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Always learn and grow. Propagate a heart-forward, student- or customer-focused culture throughout your organization, and then introduce the outside world to that culture. There is much that can be learned when you listen to others rather than focusing inwardly exclusively. Active listening allows individuals to pinpoint opportunities and areas for growing relationships between organizations through knowledge sharing and trust building. In understanding what other organizations need and can offer, you become a liaison in connecting organizations and their leaders to accomplish more together than any one entity could standing alone. Network — and mean it.

Eddy Moratin

President, Lift Orlando

  • Address: 2043 Jacobs Place, Orlando 32805
  • Employees: Nine
  • Industry: Nonprofit
  • Founded: 2013
  • Description: Lift Orlando is a nonprofit that works with residents, business leaders and community partners for neighborhood revitalization in the communities of West Lakes. These historic communities are strengthened by providing mixed-income housing, cradle-to-career education, a health and wellness center, and economic viability opportunities.

Top pandemic accomplishment: Opening the West Lakes Early Learning Center, a state-of-the-art early childhood education center that offers on-site comprehensive health, nutrition, wellness and social services for children in West Lakes. The center is owned and operated by AdventHealth.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? Counting blessings. There is such a constant stream of bad news. I try to count the many blessings, happy accidents, strokes of good fortune, and small moments of joy and gratitude. You become what you behold, and focusing on the light helps overcome the darkness.

Moratin and his family

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? I don’t know if this is a Power Lunch Spot, but I missed Black Bean Deli Cafe the most in the middle of the pandemic. I love that place.

Pain points: It’s a bold new world, and all of us are finding our way through to the new normal. Social and economic setbacks of this scale always have their greatest impact on the communities in greatest need of resilience-building investments. We’ve always been about working with residents, businesses and partners to strengthen the communities in Orlando’s 32805 ZIP code. This goal will require more from us all.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? Blue Meridian Partners. We connected to them through our counterparts in Omaha, Nebraska, who lead an effort similar to Lift Orlando called 75 North on behalf of the Buffett family. Othello Meadows, former CEO of 75 North, now heads the strategy and initiatives portfolio for Blue Median. Their Place Matters portfolio aims to improve economic and social mobility in communities across the U.S. through investments in place-based partnerships and catalytic supports. They see Lift Orlando as exemplar in the space. The organization has helped us expand our thinking even further on the potential impact for our local communities.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Know when to be relational and when to be transactional. In making business connections, being overly transactional is an infamous mistake. We must always invest first in relationships. Once relationships are established, it is important to have a bias for action by focusing on the clear expectations made possible by simple transactions. Too often, people hear the emphasis to invest in relationships and stall to take action. In life, business and in leadership, you barely build great relationships for relationship’s sake. The strongest relationships are built on the way to doing something amazing together.

Tanisha Nunn Gary

President/CEO, African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida (AACCCF)

  • Address: 3201 W. Colonial Drive, Ste. A-20, Orlando 32803
  • Employees: Four, plus 29 board members
  • Industry: Professional services
  • Founded: 1945
  • Description: The AACCCF is the principal advocate in fostering economic success for African-American-owned businesses in Central Florida.

Top pandemic accomplishment: A remarkable and humble donor understood the challenges some businesses sustained as a result of the pandemic. With a donation of $100,000, the chamber became the conduit for 12 grants to help members who sought relief in the wake of Covid. When I called each recipient to share the news, it was such a rewarding and joyful experience. The winners were grateful, and the chamber board members and I were proud to serve as a lifeline to these business owners.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? Now, more than ever, I practice gratitude daily by reflecting on the people and things in my life that I am grateful for, letting that gratitude steer me beyond the difficulties that we are facing.

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? Chamber member The Boheme at the Grand Bohemian

Pain points: Access to capital often is the biggest challenge for for Black business owners. Financing has a direct impact on the success of any business. Without proper financing, it’s difficult to get the employees you need, advertise or purchase equipment and materials.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? During the wake of the protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many members of the Central Florida community reached out to offer support to our members, and to inquire about being an ally for our community. Many of those individuals joined our chamber and began to support us in ways that we have not seen in past years. This support ultimately brought more awareness for our chamber and members. When small businesses flourish, so do their communities. Black business ownership is particularly important and serves as a path for creating the opportunity for sustained, multigenerational wealth. Building stronger small businesses can help close the racial wealth gap for years to come.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Making business connections is essential for your career and your business. It is one of the most important skills for development and success. It is good practice to do your homework before formally networking to get to know the person you plan on talking to in advance. Also, it is important to be authentic and find a conversation topic to connect on upon meeting new professionals. Follow through is equally important; follow up within a few days of meeting a potential professional contact.

Bob O’Malley

Executive vice president of corporate development, Railroad Consultants PLLC

Bob O’Malley
  • Local address: 2400 Maitland Summit Blvd., Ste. 235, Maitland 32751
  • Headquarters: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • Central Florida employees: Four
  • Companywide employees: 212
  • Industry: Architecture/engineering/construction, transportation
  • Founded locally: 2020
  • Description: Railroad Consultants provides construction and engineering services to freight railroads, rail-served industrial sites, port authorities, departments of transportation and passenger rail agencies nationwide by delivering safe, efficient and innovative solutions founded on decades of Class I railroad experience.

Top pandemic accomplishment: I founded a Central Florida office and quickly established a strong Florida customer base.

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? Sundays are key to my happiness. I play soccer in the morning and attend Mass in the evening.

Which Power Lunch spot in Central Florida have you missed the most during the pandemic? My go-to spot is Antonio’s in Maitland, which wasn’t closed for too long.

Pain points: A tight labor market and clogged supply chain are challenges to our growth. We can’t hire employees and buy equipment fast enough.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? I’ve been working to bring key stakeholders together to advance the east-west expansion of SunRail from Orlando International Airport to the Orange County Convention Center. The entire region will need to be united to make this happen, but we are in a moment in time when we can do this. Extending SunRail to the airport and convention center will connect Central Florida residents to major employment centers and affordable housing. Such a line also could be used by high-speed rail, which would benefit Central Florida’s economy by connecting tourists and employees to our top destinations.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Be nice to everyone and take no one for granted.

Gaby Ortigoni

President/CEO, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando

  • Address: 3201 E. Colonial Drive, Suite A20, Orlando 32803
  • Employees: Seven
  • Industry: Economic development, professional services
  • Founded: 1993
  • Description: The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando’s mission is to drive economic growth by strengthening Hispanic business in Central Florida, and become the leading voice of Hispanic business impacting the economic, civic and social landscape. It empowers business leaders through programs, events, resources and activities; and serves as the gateway for large organizations/national corporations to connect with the local Hispanic community.

Top pandemic accomplishment: Assisting Hispanic-owned businesses with the resources they needed to keep their companies running

What are you doing to stay happy in 2021? I recently enjoyed some outdoor activities, such as ziplining at Toro Verde in Puerto Rico.

Ortigoni enjoyed ziplining in Puerto Rico.

What was the biggest introduction or connection you made in the past year? The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando also helps business owners from Latin America and Puerto Rico who are looking to expand to this region. The chamber is working closely with business leaders in Puerto Rico, Colombia and other countries to develop strategic business partnerships and initiatives. Hispanics represent more than 30% of the population and economy in our region. Ensuring that Hispanic-owned businesses and professionals have equal access to contracts and other professional opportunities makes our local economy stronger.

Advice for those seeking to make better business connections: Don’t underestimate the power of personal relationships. As business owners and professionals, we must rely on technology, but being part of local organizations — such as chambers of commerce — offers unique opportunities to strengthen your business network and support system to help achieve sustainable growth.

Source: Orlando Business Journal

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