Kathy Baylis likes to describe her job this way: partnerships, politics and public relations. By far, she says, the most important is partnerships with business, government, media and citizens. “Economic development is a team sport,” she says.
Baylis is retiring this month after 16 years of working in the field of economic development, the last seven as the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota, an organization she helped grow out of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, where the function used to be housed and where Baylis was a vice president and oversaw economic development.
Professional, efficient and unflappable, Baylis is the polar opposite of the flashy, ego-driven CEO who takes all the credit and requires the limelight. But her calm demeanor, work ethic and ability to bring people with sometimes divergent interests together helped bring in 200 companies that have created 7,000 jobs during her tenure. Businesses may not see geographical boundaries, but counties, municipalities and organizations do, waging all sorts of turf battles that create barriers to economic development. As Baylis prepares to step down, she cautions her successor, Mark Huey, and business and government leaders not to lose sight of the value of collaborating with Manatee County, Tampa Bay, and soon, she hopes, Charlotte County.
Fortunately—and unfortunately—she says, our region has never had a major crisis to rally around. Many successful cities she’s visited have had to forge a common vision to overcome a calamity. “We don’t want to create a crisis, but we have to pull people together and get them to agree on priorities,” she says. To do that, she suggests the creation of a community leadership council.
Of all her accomplishments—the creation of the EDC, bringing the Film & Entertainment Office into the EDC and helping secure those 7,000 jobs—Baylis says she most enjoyed visiting the hundreds of companies that make up our economy. “There are so many hidden gems here,” she says, “companies we don’t know about because their markets aren’t here, like the Aso Corporation and Cook Spring Company, but the businesspeople there are so proud of what they’re doing. They were proud to take me on a tour, to introduce me to their teams, to talk about their challenges. Every time I left, I said to myself, ‘This is why I love my job.’”
Baylis, 63, has been battling cancer. She says her health problems were not the sole reason for retiring, but they did hasten her decision. She’ll take the summer off and then by fall plans to decide where she’ll volunteer and perhaps work as an independent consultant. “I’ve already asked my board to allow me to participate on committees,” she says.
From all of us here at Biz(941), we thank you, Kathy, for all your years as a team player and for helping to make our region stronger.