WHAT BROUGHT LOCAL BUSINESS LEADERS TO GAINESVILLE?
DEBORAH BOWIE, PRESIDENT/CEO OF THE UNITED WAY OF NORTH CENTRAL FLORIDA

I grew up in Miami (back when it was called Miami and not South Florida). Like many folks downstate, I did not know much about Alachua County, Gainesville or basically anything north of Disney. Little did I know that one day, I would boomerang back to my home state and settle in Gainesville.

What brought me here is not employment, though I did have a great opportunity in 2013 to join a phenomenal team at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. As far as the chamber world goes, the Gainesville Area Chamber was a good move, but for me, the decision to move here had everything to do with my son.

I have triplets and one is a boy living with autism. My son needed a community where he could thrive, receive much-needed specialized services and be accepted for the uniqueness he brings to the world. I knew the moment I arrived here that I had made the right choice. The medical community is without a doubt Gainesville’s most valuable asset. World-class teaching, amazing support and an environment where people from all walks of life can feel like they are finally home — that’s what I tell people about living in Gainesville and why I do not see myself living anywhere else.

A year and a half later, I find myself transitioning from chamber work to an incredible opportunity to lead the United Way of North Central Florida. To me, it’s more than chance that the United Way’s vision is a world where all people can achieve their human potential through education, income stability and healthy lives — and that its mission is to mobilize the caring power of communities for the common good.

Isn’t that everything you could ever want when selecting a place to raise your children? Doesn’t that stir your soul when you ask yourself the proverbial question, “What is my purpose in life?” It did for me, and it drives me to help make Gainesville the most caring place on earth, where every person has a chance to succeed and, most importantly, feel valued.

I spent 10 years in community and business development across three states because I believe businesses are the backbone to building strong regional economies. As it turns out, they are, but that is not the only building block in the design of a great community. Ultimately, it’s “all the other stuff.” Last year, Leadership Gainesville and the alumni association partnered to bring author Peter Kageyama to town and he said something so simple, so authentic and so applicable to “Why Gainesville?” that I will share: “In order to lead a city, change a city and convince others to be there with you, you must first love the city.”

Thanks, Peter. I couldn’t have said that better myself.

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