Betsy Gardner Eckbert has fully embraced her reputation of being a catalyst for change since stepping into her role as president of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce (WPCC) in 2016. In a relatively short amount of time, she has revamped and refreshed the chamber to appeal to a wider demographic.
Today, Gardner Eckbert proudly recounts her childhood in the city where she now serves. Her family moved from Massachusetts to Winter Park when she was 11 years old, and she later attended Winter Park High School, where she was an involved student leader.
“Growing up here, you knew everybody and everybody’s parents,” she says. “It was about being raised in a place of high standards.”
From a young age, Gardner Eckbert witnessed firsthand the importance of civil servitude. Her mother, Lydia Gardner, served on both the Orange County School Board and Orange County Clerk of Courts. She also volunteered outside of Washington D.C. to provide meals and tutoring to children in need — an activity that Gardner Eckbert and her brother tagged along to often.
“That had a huge impact on me,” she says.
With a career spanning all aspects of the sales and marketing industry, Gardner Eckbert gained valuable experience that she would later call on in her work with the chamber. From working in pharmaceutical sales early on to eventually co-founding a company that specialized in children’s UV-protective swimwear, her varied skill set aided in her public servitude.
“I always tell my kids that all of life is sales,” she says. “Sales is about influencing people to make decisions. Whether you’re a doctor or a teacher, the core skills that you use are sales skills.”
Gardner Eckbert was one of over 200 candidates when the role of WPCC president opened following Patrick Chapin’s resignation. As president, she has introduced a number of initiatives to update the chamber, earning herself the label of “change agent.” A new website was launched under her guidance and the chamber changed its mission statement to reflect its passion for bringing people together. One of the most important objectives has been maintaining Winter Park’s small town spirit while expanding the city’s reach.
“Winter Park staked its claim to maintaining its village feel despite explosive growth,” Gardner Eckbert says. “Many influencers of business lay their heads down on pillows in Winter Park, even if their businesses are not located here.”
Another critical goal has been expanding the chamber’s audience. She has focused heavily on using social media sites like LinkedIn, Yelp and TripAdvisor to connect residents and draw in younger members. As Winter Park grows, Gardner Eckbert intends to continue to modernize the chamber without abandoning its original purpose.
“Chambers used to be the only way for businesses to convene,” she says. “That’s not the case anymore. People come here because they want personal interaction. My hope is to customize the commerce experience for each citizen of Winter Park.”