By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
It was a difficult year for the Apopka business community. A pandemic, complete with lockdowns, quarantines, and closings made economic success challenging. But every step of the way, Robert Agrusa kept the business community moving forward with a vision for the future.
That future, however, will have someone else at the helm.
Agrusa, the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce President, was appointed President and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association. He will be leaving the chamber to start that position in February.
“It is difficult to lose Robert simply because of the success he’s had in growing the organization and putting in the framework for a true change in our operations and mission,” says Tim Clark, chairman, Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce, and CEO, AdventHealth Apopka.
Agrusa started as president of the chamber in 2017, and in that time grew its membership, introduced political and governmental forums to its event schedule, and created a new public/private partnership with the City of Apopka, taking on part of the economic development role for the city.
And according to Agrusa, his decision did not come easy.
“While I’m certainly excited about the future, leaving Apopka has been a hard decision that I didn’t take lightly,” said Agrusa. “Our community is truly turning a corner into becoming one of the top areas for economic growth, fueled by an extremely diverse business community. The future is limitless for the Apopka area and I’ll always be proud that I was part of building the foundation for a tremendous future.”
Agrusa will succeed Rich Maladecki, who announced his retirement last year. Maladecki served as CFHLA’s President and CEO for over 20 years.
“Robert is the right leader, at the right time for the association,” said Jesse Martinez, Chairman of the Board for CFHLA. “CFHLA is at the forefront of one of the most challenging and exciting times in tourism and we are thrilled that Robert will be leading us here in Central Florida. His extensive experience in the public and private sectors will play a key role as the industry restores and evolves in the short and long term future.”
The CFHLA represents nearly 80% of the region’s 125,500-plus hotel rooms in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties, and nearly 500 supplier organizations that support the hospitality and tourism industries. Certainly, the hotel industry has also taken a financial hit during the pandemic, but Agrusa is excited by the challenge.
“For decades, the CFHLA has been a true regional powerhouse, being at the forefront of our community’s growth into the world’s leading destination for vacations, conventions, and business meetings,” Agrusa said. “It’s an honor to take on the leadership of CFHLA and have the opportunity to work with the best and brightest in Florida’s hospitality industry, particularly at this time where our tourism economy in central Florida is so fragile. I am excited with the prospect of working hard to return consumer confidence and jobs back to the industry, understanding that tomorrow will be as bright as yesterday.”
In 2017, the chamber had over 200 people apply for the President’s position. Now that process begins again.
“Very soon, we will be accepting applications,” said Clark. “We encourage people to apply or forward to anyone they think will fit this role. Our board will be working hard to find someone who can continue leading the Apopka area in economic development, political influence and business growth like Robert has over these past four years.”
In a 2017 interview with The Apopka Voice, Agrusa stated his opinion on how a chamber should be part of a community. It could also be seen as advice for the next president.
“When I look at the chamber, it’s supposed to be the leading advocate for business in a community and to improve the quality of life for the residents because that’s also a key component as well. I feel like it should be a resource where all community groups can come together to work on solutions. The chamber should be that asset. Not only for a building, but where everybody can collaborate, and we can work together. Whether it’s to solve affordable housing, transportation, growth, or educational issues. This is a place where we can talk and get together. That’s a chamber’s role. Less event-based and more visionary. Certainly, we’re going to do events, but our focus will be on what we are doing for our community. What are we giving back to our community? Everybody can do events, but that shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of a chamber of commerce.”