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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 3 months ago

Fort Myers difference maker embraces startup community

Phyllis LeFlore-Calloway says she's 'someone who tries to make a difference in the environment I’m in.'
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

Phyllis LeFlore-Calloway had been holding down a dual role since October 2021, splitting her time between being assistant director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency and director of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center.

But when she realized the arrangement wasn’t ideal, she wasn’t afraid to speak up.

Both were demanding, full-time positions, and she felt she couldn’t give her all to either role. So she presented her concerns to the CRA commissioners and was recently promoted to full-time director of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center.

LeFlore-Calloway, 63, now looks forward to focusing on the light industrial business incubator that works with startup and early-stage businesses. The center offers programs, workshops, and seminars for entrepreneurs and business owners to educate them on a variety of topics and provides a physical location from which young businesses can work.

“My future goals are to continue to assist business owners to master their specific industries and achieve the skills that they need to grow and develop strong professional networking opportunities,” she says.

She began working for the City of Fort Myers in 2018, as the legal administrator and advisor in the city attorney’s office. She then took on the role of interim city manager in April 2021. Throughout her career, she’s often served as a sounding board for coworkers and business associates. “I think I’ve created a reputation of being a good listener,” she says. “They know I’m going to be honest first and foremost. I never have an ulterior motive.”

During her time working for the city, she’s taken on tasks related to issues like efficiency and restructuring, initiatives that required people to get OK with changes — both big and small.

“I am someone who tries to make a difference in the environment I’m in, whether it be professionally or personally,” she says. “I identify myself as a nurturer; I identify myself as a communicator. I love to network and get new ideas from other folks. I’m not a resister. I want to do whatever it is I possibly can.”

She plans to embrace her inquisitive and open-minded nature as she works to expand the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center and keep up with the ever-changing Fort Myers area. “We have all types of businesses out there looking to grow and graduate out of our two-year program, so they can become successful businesses in the community and provide more future growth,” says LeFlore-Calloway. “The incubator program right now is just what this city needs, and I’m trying to do collaborations with some other existing programs so we can reach more people and broaden our scope of resources and information we can provide.”

Phyllis LeFlore-Calloway was named and director of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center in October. (Photo by Reagan Rule)

She knows change can sometimes be hard — and some resistance is to be expected

“People want better, but they don’t want to change to make things better,” she says. “I’ve found that most change efforts fail because of a lack of understanding of the need for the immediate change. Providing good information is the only way to get the buy-in from the people the change will include.”

“I can’t spend a lot of time focusing on what people think as long as I know my why,” adds LeFlore-Calloway. “I’m the fixer. I must be able to identify the tasks required to implement change and estimate the effort needed to complete those tasks. If you want to get from A to C, you’ve got to either go past B, over B, or around B to get there. But change puts people in a fearful mindset.”

She considers herself a people person, but she’s also learned to trust her own instincts and abilities. “I feel I’m very resourceful in the way I approach people,” she says. “And I approach everything I do now in my late life with no expectations. I find that after doing that I’m not disappointed. Sometimes I’m very pleased at the outcome of any given situation by going into it with no expectations.”

Affecting change, she says, also requires taking things one step at a time and never being afraid to fail. “If you come to that obstacle in the road or that person or whatever it may be, don’t be afraid of failure,” says LeFlore-Calloway. “You won’t know unless you try…And you can’t be afraid of ‘no.’ You’re going to get a lot of ‘no’s. I get ‘no’s every day.”

Another key to her success? Leading by example. “I don’t care about the accolades or the pats on the back as long as the work gets done,” she says. “My motivation comes from overcoming challenges, leading a team, and being part of a team.”

So it’s not surprising she advises aspiring change makers to stay humble. “No matter how successful you become, you’re only as good as the last person you’ve helped,” she says. “You always have to have an open mind of integrity and honesty and speak up for what’s right. You never go along with wrong just to get along with people. Sometimes you’ve got to stand alone.”

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