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Read about last year's People of the Year/People to Watch

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Today, The News-Press editorial board presents finalists for our annual People of the Year/People to Watch Awards. This will be the 26th year The News-Press has spotlighted people making a significant difference in our community. Last year, we recognized the winners from the previous 25 years and presented a special award to Jim Nathan, CEO of the Lee Memorial Health System as the Person of Distinction for the last quarter century.

For 2012, we received over 40 nominations from the public, as well as from previous editorial board members. Each person, group or business is well deserving. The finalists below were selected by the editorial board leadership based on community impact, particularly in 2012 and potential to make a difference in their various roles in 2013.

The six categories are Person/People of the Year, Corporations/Business Leaders, Trailblazers, Heroes, Public Officials and Person/People to Watch.

The News-Press will profile the finalists for Person/People of the Year on Dec.. 23 and for Person/People to Watch on Dec. 30. All award winners will be announced at a community celebration Jan. 17, called “People of the Year: Making a Difference,” at the Grace Community Center. Here are the finalists:

Person/People of the Year

Bob Ball, Executive Director, Lee County Port Authority

Running one of the nation’s busiest single runway airports is demanding enough, but orchestrating change to meet the demands of a growing international transportation facility is a herculean task and one that Ball is meeting.

Through his leadership, the airport was approved to build a new $14 million runway to help ease air traffic demands. On the ground, the airport also will build a new connecting road from I-75 to help ease traffic congestion in and out of the facility. Throughout his 16-year tenure, the airport has remained profitable each year.

He also is in charge of the Page Field operations and through his direction has helped lead a rebirth of the general aviation airport in Fort Myers.

Robbie Roepstorff, president of Edison National Bank/Bank of the Islands

A longtime community leader, Roepstorff has served in instrumental roles in 2012 on the key issues of education and health.

She is the chair of the Community Health Visioning Executive Committee, a coalition of leaders focused on a “Healthy Lee” County, and led a Horizon Council challenge to get business leaders committed to wellness for themselves and their employees.

Roepstorff also is active in integrating the business committee with the education system as chair of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and as a Trustee for Florida Gulf Coast University.

She also will be a key decision maker on a new Horizon Council task force helping refine Lee County procedures for distributing economic incentive money to companies that want to create jobs here.

Harlem Heights Foundation

The foundation is the central figure and driving force in uniting the Harlem Heights community, a low income but diverse area of Fort Myers with a population of approximately 2,000.

The centerpiece of its work, the Harlem Heights Cultural Arts and Community Center, opened this year after over a decade in the making thanks to the help of a $1 million donation. The $5.7 million, 14,000 square foot facilities offers the community a variety of cultural, recreational and educational opportunities. Leaders of the project stayed committed to opening the center even after construction stopped in 2008 because of the recession.

Through donations, the program has successfully helped those in need for the past 13 years, especially during the holidays. Over Thanksgiving, it distributed 400 dinners.

Corp/Business

Arthrex, medical device manufacturer and logistics center, south Fort Myers, Naples

Arthrex is a global leader in medical innovation that has been based in Naples for more than 20 years. The company continues to expand its logistics and manufacturing centers throughout Southwest Florida and is creating hundreds of jobs.

In February, it opened a new logistics center on Plantation Road in south Fort Myers, housing a distribution warehouse as well as approximately 200 customer service and information technology workers. The south Fort Myers location is a consolidation of multiple shipping operations from Florida and the U.S.

Arthrex has been generous donor, giving money to support child care centers through Collier Child Care Resources, Inc. this year after receiving the 2011 Innovation of Philanthropy Award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The company also plans to build a new 190,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in eastern Collier County near Ava Maria University. It is scheduled for a spring opening.

Fuccillo Kia in Cape Coral

This “hugely” successful auto dealership, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, was the talk of the town, thanks to its flamboyant owner Billy Fuccillo, who has changed the way people in Southwest Florida talk, with his enormously popular phrase of its HUUUGE-A!

But Fuccillo puts his words and money to work as a community partner, tirelessly giving to charities, including donations of $50,000 each to the Salvation Army and Harry Chapin Food Bank. He also has stirred the local economy, giving away money and cars to residents At one entertainment event this year, called “HUGEfest 2012,” he not only offered a free concert, but also gave out over $300,000 in cash as well as new cars. During another event, he gave away a house with a new KIA in the driveway. He has made the Cape a destination point through his popular TV commercials.

LeeSar, medical company, Fort Myers

LeeSar, led by CEO Robert Allan Simpson, which opened its new $40 million distribution facility in October, has changed the way medical supplies are handled throughout the region .

Established in 1998 and owned by the Lee Memorial Health System, LeeSar re-imagined supply chain improvements to save money and save lives. The Lee Memorial system saved almost $12 million last year as LeeSar handled 15,000 meals a day and processed 200,000 individual supply requests a month.

The company now serves a variety of health care systems across Southwest Florida, including Lee Memorial Health System. The company manages pharmaceutical packaging, sterile instrument processing, supply distribution and food services for the health care systems from the new facility. The facility also houses centralized purchasing, contract management and negotiations and administration offices.

Trailblazers

Lydia Black, executive director for Lee County’s Alliance of the Arts

Black took over as director of the Alliance in 2008 after serving as director of development at Renaissance School, a private Montessori school in Fort Myers. Her leadership has resulted in the coalition of a once-disparate arts community and thousands of people who volunteer their time to work various non-profit arts and cultural events.

The arts community is a key economic driver for the area, generating approximately $68 million each year as well as supporting 2,000 full-time jobs and pumped $9 million into state and local government coffers, according to recent studies.

The Lee County Alliance of the Arts also sponsors an “Art in Flight” program, partnering with the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts to place a sculpture by artist Louise Nevelson at the airport as way to get people thinking of Southwest Florida as a cultural destination.

If all this was not enough for Black, who is a past people to watch nominee, she also acted in a play earlier this year on the Theater Conspiracy stage.

Richard Lewis, HSA Engineers & Scientists

Lewis, the principal shareholder of the Fort Myers branch of HSA Engineers and Scientists, helped make STEM a household word, starting last year as the chair of the Southwest Florida Chamber.

The grassroots effort, focusing on the areas of science, technology, math and engineering, continues to build steam as for the third year 65 students will mix with 20 businesses in a special problem-solving work program with the possibility of earning scholarships and culminating with a rally at FGCU in the spring.

STEM-related fields are surging across the national and globally, projecting to grow by 17 percent by 2018, compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM occupations.

Lewis is leading the Southwest Florida initiative in promoting and driving the educational and career advantages of entering the STEM fields as well as creating a stronger workforce in competing for jobs globally.

Lewis, who was a 2011 People to Watch nominee, has worked tirelessly and aggressively to keep STEM fields front and center in the minds of local students, as well as working with the school district to over more STEM courses.

Sue Roshon, director of Adult and Career Education for Lee County Public Schools

Roshon is the driving force behind the Lee County School Districts impressive career academies. Starting in 2005, Roshon has helped build the popularity of the specialized programs, ranking Lee among the top districts in the state.

Her efforts have placed the programs center stage in recent years as The News-Press Market Watch Education summits have spotlighted the importance of career and college readiness for our youngsters. Working with the Horizon Council, Roshon created a teacher immersion program that took 25 teachers and 15 administrators into the business community to learn from each other. Subsequently, the teachers refined lesson plans based on what they heard to fit the needs of the business community. She also is facilitating a strategic plan for the career academies that engages the business community and other stakeholders.

Heroes

B. Thomas Golisano, philanthropist, founder of Paychex, Inc., a payroll and human resource service company.

The Naples resident believes in sharing his wealth and helping those in need, especially children and young adults.

This fall, it was announced that he gave a $20 million matching grant for the expansion of the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, which will also carry his name.

His generosity will not only help children here, but also encourages others to follow his lead and donate to a project for years to come.

Golisano is a founding sponsor and major underwriter for the Clinton Global Initiative and a $34 million benefactor and namesake for the Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Besides founding Paychex, a company valued at $1.6 billion, he was a three-time candidate for governor of New York and founded the state’s Independence Party. He also is chairman of the board of the Golisano Foundation.

Dudley Goodlette, then interim president of Edison State College

The storm was big and nasty, but Goodlette figured there was a way out and he took on the challenge of stabilizing the reputation of Edison State College as a search was underway for a new president.

When took over as the school’s interim president in January, the issues were massive as the school was dealing with a scathing report of academic fraud, facing de-accredidation and dealing with a suspended president.

So on his sixth day, he settled a labor dispute. On his seven day, an attorney released a damaging report on longtime president Kenneth Walker, urging trustees to act. Walker was fired three days later.

Goodlette took on the challenges despite little experience as an education leader. A Naples attorney and former state representative, he did serve as a trustee at Edison and served on the Florida Gulf Coast University’s foundation board. But he worked with staff to complete national accreditation procedures for the baccalaureate nursing program, restructured student services to add employees who assisted students with their academic, social and financial needs. His calm and respectful style helped pave the way for Allbritten.

Gwendolyn Howard, owner of Gwendolyn’s Cafe in Fort Myers

Her work with recovering addicts not only makes headlines here, but also received national attention this year when she was featured on the CBS Evening News.

Howard’s dedication to the project is limitless. She has spent the past two years reaching out to recovering addicts and offering them jobs in the cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch . Her community outreach is equally impressive as after the cafe closes as a restaurant, it serves as place of healing, featuring 12-step meetings for addicts and public forums on addiction awareness. Her socials provide fun and companionship to young people in recovery.

Her success stories continue to mount as recovering addicts continue to sing her praises over Howard’s willingness to give them a second chance.

Howard hopes her work rubs off on others willing to help those in need of a second chance.

“I would love to see other companies take a chance,” she said.

Public officials

Randy Henderson, Fort Myers mayor

One only needs to walk the downtown of Fort Myers and look at how the area has redefined itself under Henderson’s leadership. One Friday, he unveiled two beautiful basins in the River District that not only offer a scenic walk for people, but also should attract new restaurants and other businesses to the area, adding money and jobs. The basins also were designed in such a way that they should help improve the water quality of the Caloosahatchee because of improved storm water protections. This visionary effort involved numerous individuals but was captained by Henderson.

This year, the mayor also hosted President Obama. And he his working with the police department to address the violence in the Dunbar area. Hiring a crime analyst will be a good first step in identifying crime trends and hopefully ending the unprecedented number of slayings in the area.

Ben Nelson, Bonita Springs mayor

Nelson, who won re-election for a second term in January, is in a wonderful position to continue what he has already been doing, building a better Bonita.

Not only has he continued to oversee tremendous change in a community with the development of commercial projects, but he has new projects to help usher through. Nelson also has been leading efforts to rebuild Old 41 downtown area, as well as encourage work by the Bonita Springs/Estero Economic Development Council and its work to bring industry to town.

He has proposed developing a Community Redevelopment Agency to help attract new businesses to area.

And he could see massive expansion to the east of the city after voters approved a referendum to add slot machines at the dog track. Should state legislators work out statewide rules, allowing for slots, the city could see 900 new jobs because of the project, plus commercial expansion to the area.

Judy Zimomra, Sanibel City Manager

The longest serving city manager in the area, with over 11 years experience, Zimomra has led a resurgence of the island’s tourism since Hurricane Charley. She has become one of the most financially astute leaders in the region, having managed the city budget throughout this period without tapping into reserves to meet operational costs.

She has reduced the tax burden on residents by securing grants. Zimomroa has built strong relationships with her numerous partners through the region. She is well-acquainted with Florida legislative leaders through her long tenure in Sanibel and her work on various environmental projects.

She continues to be the environmental crusader, protecting the island’s distinction as a top tourist destination, topping the prestigious Frommer‘s list as a favorite place to visit.

People to watch

Lee County leadership: Namely Cecil Pendergrass and Larry Kiker, Lee County Commissioners; new county manager, county attorney

As new members of the commission, Pendergrass and Kiker come aboard at one of the most unsettling times in the county’s history but also with the rare opportunity to set a course for positive change. They will debate and ultimately decide on a new county manager and county attorney and how to restore trust with taxpaying residents concerned over poor management decisions of the past that led to the collapse of its medical flight program and lack of faith in economic incentive packages that have produced nothing more than headaches. They also must be skillful negotiators, problem solvers and visionaries at a time when their decisions matter most in picking its administrative leaders.

The new county manager must come in and rebuild, starting with Public Safety, reeling from the Medstar billing and certification fiasco. The new leader must put a management team in placed capable of restoring confidence among residents and within their own departments. The new leader must give the commissioners an operating budget that strengthens core services and quality of life but does not allow for unnecessary spending.

Trey Radel, U.S. House of Representatives

Of all our regional leaders, Radel’s role may be the most significant as he starts a new career in politics at one of highest levels in the U.S. Congress, representing Florida’s 19th District. He will be making decisions that impact a nation and a state relying on him to do what is best for his local constituents.

How he reacts to his duties as a government leader and his allegiances to the Norquist pledge of not raising taxes will be paramount in his development. He may be faced with situations where the pledge stands in the way of him doing what is best for his state and we will expect him to react accordingly, as he has stated he would.

He also is in the unique and promising position to build consensus with the Democratic party in the emerging post-fiscal cliff era as well as working with the state in implementing health care reform and building a solid job base.

Jeff Allbritten, president of Edison State College

Allbritten took his post in July and is devoted to leading the college out of the shadows of academic and inter-personal scandals that have impacted the 50-year-old institution.

His goal over the next year will be to restore the college’s reputation, attain re-accreditation, and attract more students to one of its four campuses.

He is putting his leadership team in place to repair the damage, which resulted in the school being placed on probation until June of next year for a series of problems that found the school out of compliance in seven areas, including, according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a lack of integrity.

Allbritten, must now be a visionary, bridge builder, healer and cheerleader, keep the trust of his board and restore creditability to the school. Allbritten’s leadership and the school’s ability to recover and prove its academic worthiness will be key as the school tries to get re-accredited next year.

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