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On Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, José Fajardo, executive vice president, and Shari Dingle Sandifer, 2014-2015 chair of Orlando, Inc., and CEO of Avant Healthcare Professionals, announced that Orlando, Inc., the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, was reaccredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with a Five-Star Accreditation for an unprecedented third time.
In making the announcement, Sandifer said, "As I mentioned at the beginning of this process, achieving Five-Star Accreditation status twice in a row was remarkable, but retaining it is extraordinary! So much hard work and devotion goes into this organization. It is with heartfelt appreciation that I thank every member of the accreditation committee for their dedicated work, and congratulate the members and staff of Orlando, Inc., for their participation, support and commitment."
Why is this news so important? Of the 7,077 chambers of commerce in the United States, just 213 are designated as Accredited, representing the top 3 percent of chambers in the country. While that is significant, the fact that Orlando, Inc., is one of just 89 chambers that have been awarded Five Stars—the highest level of accreditation in the program's 3-tier system—means that it is in the top 1 percent of all chambers in the nation.
In Florida, 15 of 227 chambers of commerce have been accredited by the U.S. Chamber, with 8 receiving Five Stars including the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida, Inc., Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce and Orlando, Inc., the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"Accreditation validates a chamber as having programs that benefit its local economy and positively influence its community," said Raymond P. Towle, IOM, CAE, executive director of Political Affairs and Federation Relations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We applaud these organizations for advancing the principles of free enterprise."
The volunteer-driven accreditation application process began early in 2014, with the extensive digital application submitted in July. Six accreditation subcommittees, consisting of 22 volunteer leaders and 5 management staff, examined the standards and practices of Orlando, Inc., in the areas of Governance, Finance, Human Resources and Staff, Government Affairs, Program Development, Technology, Communications, Facilities, and Benchmarking.
"Going through the application process was a great way for our longer term members to realize just how much we do, and for our newer members to learn in-depth about the inner workings that make our chamber such a success," said Wendy Kurtz, chair of the accreditation committee, member of the board of directors of Orlando, Inc., and president of Elizabeth Charles & Associates, LLC. "I am proud to be part of an organization where so many busy professionals readily volunteered their time and talent to ensure the application process was fully supported and for their continued dedication to our organization." Specific member engagement with programs like Entrepreneur's Academy and Young Entrepreneur's Academy, a focus on elevating innovation and technology with support of the Orlando Tech Association, and sound government affairs policy that advances free enterprise were all contributing factors that secured the elite status for the third time.
"This is great news—and it properly rewards the hard work of our volunteer leaders, supporters and members. Along these lines, for over 100 years, our Chamber has been at the center of service when it comes to our family of communities," said Jacob V. Stuart, president of the Central Florida Partnership. "For sure, to again enjoy this special recognition by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a great honor and it sends a clear signal to everyone involved that our quality standards, dedicated leadership and levels of participation are second to none." The accreditation application showcased Orlando, Inc., as a leading component of the regional collaborative of the Central Florida Partnership and its lines of business that also include, BusinessForce, Leadership Orlando and myregion.org.