The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s CareerEdge Funders Collaborative and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange partner with Selby Gardens and Willis Smith Construction to train and connect local work force 

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The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s CareerEdge Funders Collaborative and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange partner with Selby Gardens and Willis Smith Construction to train and connect local work force 

The partnership will build on the “Fast-Track” Training Program by connecting local citizens with both training in the trades, as well as giving  successful students priority hiring 


Sarasota, FLA. (October 22, 2019)-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ (Selby Gardens) 10-year, three-phase Master Site Plan is estimated to support nearly 3,000 jobs, with priority given to businesses that employ City of Sarasota residents.  As a further benefit to the community and to ensure that there is a trained job force available for Selby Gardens’ Master Plan project, Selby Gardens and our construction partner, Willis Smith Construction, announce a collaboration with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s CareerEdge Funders Collaborative (CareerEdge) and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange to build on the success of their “Fast-Track Training Program.“

This program model provides job training to local community members who want to learn a trade and earn credentials while also seeking to close the gaps in skills in our region by connecting local citizens to training programs in high demand fields such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC and machining. Upon learning the trade and earning credentials, these individuals will enter into a career path that will provide family-sustaining wages.


“We were thrilled when the team at Selby Gardens approached us with the possibility to expand this successful program,” says Mireya C. Eavey, Executive Vice President of CareerEdge & Education Initiatives at the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. “With the framework for the program already in place, we were able to move quickly in solidifying this collaboration. We look forward to providing our City residents with important skills-training while also furthering the innovative plan at Selby Gardens.”


Selby Gardens will secure the philanthropic funding necessary to expand the “Fast-Track Training Program,” further ensuring that local residents have the necessary skills to work for subcontractors throughout the 10-year Master Plan project.


“We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with CareerEdge and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange to further the public benefits that our Master Site Plan affords the entire Sarasota community,” says Jennifer Rominiecki, President & CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. “It is our hope that this collaboration will serve as a model for other projects on the horizon in the City of Sarasota.”


Managed by Willis Smith Construction, subcontractors who hire individuals trained through this program will be given priority in the bidding process for Selby Gardens’ Master Plan project. In addition, priority will be given to subcontractors with the highest number of employees living in the City of Sarasota and those that are Certified Minority Business Enterprises or Women Business Enterprises.


“As a local company, we understand the importance of having skilled, local residents,” says David Sessions, President & CEO of Willis Smith Construction. “It not only provides a sustainable workforce but also contributes to a healthy economy.”


Upon completion of the proposed 10-year, three-phase Master Site Plan, Selby Gardens will become the First Net Positive Botanical Garden complex in the world. Key sustainability features of the Master Plan project include a storm-water management system that will return clean water to the bay, edible gardening, and a solar array atop the Sky Garden that will power the entirety of Phase One of the project.


“We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate on this training program” says Mary Dougherty, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange. “Selby Gardens’ Master Plan project will allow trained workers to gain experience in sustainable building practices—important skills that can be transferred to other future projects within the region.”


For more information on Selby Gardens’ Master Plan, visit



About Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic plants such as orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns and other tropical plants, with a focus on botany, horticulture and environmental education. For more information, please visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas. Regular admission is $20 and $10 children ages 4-17; members and children 3 and under enter free. Contact us at (941) 366-5731 or

About CareerEdge Funder’s Collaborative
CareerEdge Funder’s Collaborative is an innovative partnership of business, government, and philanthropic organizations that leverages public and private dollars to provide opportunities for better jobs and wages in Manatee and Sarasota counties.  CareerEdge is the workforce development initiative of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. For more information about CareerEdge and its partners, please visit or call 941.556.4029.

About the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange

The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange (GCBX) was established in 1952 and is a not-for-profit corporation operating as a trade organization under the guidance of a volunteer board of directors as representatives of the industry. The not-for-profit organization represents a broad cross section of the building industry, including contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and others from affiliated industries. The GCBX membership is comprised of over 400 companies in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. It includes some of the most respected contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, service providers and businesses in construction-affiliated industries. The GCBX’s mission is ‘Members Doing Business with Members’ and their advocacy efforts on behalf of the building industry are conducted in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. For more information, visit

About Willis A. Smith Construction
Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc. is a construction management firm headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, primarily serving Southwest Florida since 1972. The company has a longstanding reputation for superior construction and offers its clients particular expertise in the areas of commercial, industrial, education, healthcare, museum specialty work and sustainable construction. Willis A. Smith Construction serves to promote excellence and integrity in the construction industry while contributing to the betterment of our clients and the communities we serve. David E. Sessions joined the company in 1988, became an owner in 1989, and became its  CEO & President in 1999.  During that time the company has experienced steady and controlled growth in keeping with its resources and capabilities.  John LaCivita joined the company in 1996, became an owner in 2004 and is the Executive Vice President. In 2017 former project managers, Taylor Aultman, Nathan Carr, David Otterness and Brett Raymaker became owners and vice presidents.

The Orchid Show 2019: Blossoms of Asia

October 12 through December 1, 2019

Our Mission: To provide an oasis of inspiration and tranquility, while furthering the understanding and appreciation of plants, especially epiphytes.

Learn more about Selby Gardens’ Master Plan and sign our petition in support of the plan. Your support will help us innovate a greener future!

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