Citizen Diplomacy – You Can Change the World

Back in the fall I joined a small group of concerned citizens here in Naples that wanted to help make an impact on the perception of America in the international community.   Under the leadership arm of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, the Council for International Visitors In Collier (CIVIC) is a grassroots organization that has fundamentally been in existence for a few years, started by a few concerned citizens that understood the importance of advocating for Naples on a global level.  Being an active real estate agent and broker, I know that what used to be 9% of home sales from international buyers is now at 20% and that spoke volumes to the leaders of our community.  Our group of volunteers, headed by Ekkehard Grampp and the website, have become more active and visible and because of his leadership role, we are traveling the road to being nationally recognized so that we can accept more international visitors wanting to have a deeper understanding of our area.  How does it work?  One part of CIVIC is to accept invitations from our NCIV (National Council for International Visitors which falls under the US State Dept.) for individuals that are mid-to high level government officials that are hungry for knowledge on many different issues and arenas throughout the United States.  In Collier County we promote our tourism, agriculture, water resources, emergency disaster planning, law enforcement, urban planning and education, as well as our cultural and arts attractions.  The visitor arrives in Naples and we set a very busy agenda for them for anywhere from 1-5 days depending on their requested time period.  It’s a wonderful exchange of ideas and knowledge and allows both counterparts to interact in a way that would normally not be possible if not for the NCIV and the State Department.  I will be traveling to  Washington, D.C. for the 50th Anniversary Gala and Annual Meeting this week to learn how we can have our programs at their optimum.  Classes are very early and run the course of the day and then I get to meet and greet with our counterparts from all over the United States, as well as attending an Embassy Reception (I’ll be attending the Netherlands Embassy) as well as the US State Department Reception and to start us out, we are having a wonderful celebration Gala to open up the meeting on Wednesday night celebrating 50 years of successful citizen diplomacy.  Here’s the basic principles:  The individual citizen has the responsibility to help shape foreign relations “one handshake at a time.”  The peoples of the world are interdependent and that our future is secured through collaborations nurtured by free, open, and respectful communication.  Face-to-face meetings are the most effective means of communicating.  International exchange programs are essential for those who hope to lead the communities and nations of the world.  NCIV and its member organizations must at all times meet rigorous and measurable standards of quality and excellence in all areas.  This excellence requires commitment and competence marked by flexibility, risk taking, and an infectious and invigorating enthusiasm. Voluntarism is a unique trait of American society that must be reflected in our organizations and programs. So, what can you do to help promote your area’s citizen diplomacy, well, it all starts with a handshake.  Watch for my tweets  on Twitter throughout the week and more blog postings upon my return.  For further information or any questions on Naples real estate please contact Ruth Bethem at or direct at 239-777-7007 or toll free 877-777-7545.

Nature’s Greatest Gifts

Conservancy of SW Florida
Conservancy of SW Florida
Conservancy of SW Florida

Conservancy of SW Florida
Conservancy of SW Florida

While finding their real estate property in Naples, I like to give my clients a little time to discover one of Naples’ greatest treasures:  the Conservancy of SW Florida.  After I take my clients on a tour of Naples, highlighting our beautiful beaches, amenity rich communities and unique real estate opportunities, they head out for a tour of a different type.  Marine life, terrestrial life, flora and fauna are all tucked away in one place known to Neapolitans as The Conservancy.  It’s been an exciting time for them as they have been undergoing some changes and renovations as part of their Sustainable Campus Initiative but still provide a memorable time at the Nature Center.   They’ll be having monthly eco-themes, a mini Nature Zone where many of the Discovery Center residents are located as they created the new Dalton Discovery Center.  They now have “Take Action Tuesdays” where you can get hands-on knowledge on preserving our paradise and “Sensational Saturdays” which is a celebration for the entire family.  This will prove to be a great year for the Conservancy as they’ve scheduled their Earth Day for April 16 and the “Magic Under the Mangroves” gala fundraiser in March, sure to be a success.  Try their “Dining for Wildlife” in April and the Red Snook Catch & Release Tournament in October.  A few days ago, as a volunteer for the Naples Chamber of Commerce, I was fortunate to participate in a get re-acquainted tour that included a 45 minute narrated electric boat cruise that took us through the winding backwaters off the Gordon River and provided us with a “boatload” of new knowledge.  The volunteers are simply a walking Wikipedia!  It was followed by a tour of the touch tank in the temporary Nature Zone that offered live encounters with a 6 year old sea turtle, a baby horseshoe crab and some slippery little reptiles.  It’s also a great opportunity to take a walking trail tour where I came across the Gumbo Limbo and the answer is no, just in case you thought it was the name of a new tropical cha-cha.  It’s actually a hardy, smooth-trunked tree that sheds a papery-thin red skin.  Some of you may remember that the Ritz-Carlton on the beach has a lovely little beachside cabana that serves great fare and refreshing libations of the same name.  Plan to be stay a while, in other words, pack a lunch, if you care to try to identify some of the 140 species of birds that have been recorded at the Nature Center.  The dozens of volunteers, interns, administrators and just some concerned citizens have joined forces years ago to make this a truly one-of-a-kind experience that melds learning and conservation so that our future generations will be able to enjoy the Naples we’ve come to know and love.  One of my clients commented just last week that she always had such a hard time describing Naples to those friends and family that hadn’t yet discovered Naples.  Then, frustrated because she just couldn’t find the right word that would sum up how she felt about Naples, she simply gave a heavy sigh and said “paradise.”  ‘Nough said.   For further information or any questions on Naples real estate please contact Ruth Bethem at or direct at 239-777-7007 or toll free 877-777-7545.

New Digs for the Naples Chamber of Commerce

Back to Home Sweet Home, the Naples Chamber of Commerce (NCOC) announced yesterday that it is coming back to 5th Avenue in Olde Naples, where it had been located for many previous years.  Historically, it was located in what is now known as the Shamrock Bank Building on the northwest corner.  Fast forward a few decades and now it will be located on the southeast corner in the Wachovia Bank Center at 900 5th Ave S. on the first floor with great visibility for visitors and easy access for residents too as they enter the 5th Ave district.  With 3,084 square feet and a newer Mediterranean inspired building to be housed in, at one of Naples’ busiest intersections, we’re expecting great things for our Chamber.  Here’s a portion of the press release from the NCOC:

Michael Reagen, President and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce statesOur new visitor center location, right in the heart of Naples, will maximize visibility for our business community and increase our ability to deliver information directly into the hands of visitors to Collier County,” states Reagen. “As the recession comes to an end, the new facility favorably positions The Chamber and its membership in advance of season and anticipated re-growth and development.” “This is very exciting news for all of Collier County,” said Jack Wert, Collier County’s tourism director. “To have the Visitor Information Center centrally located where it was known to exist for many, many years in the downtown area will revitalize and refocus the community,” he said. Visitors will be delighted to enjoy this new location.”

According to the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourism accounts for 31,300 jobs in Collier County. Nearly 1.4 million visitors in 2007 spent over $791 million dollars, resulting in a total annual economic impact of over $1.17 billion within Collier County.

“This is fantastic news,” said Mayor Bill Barnett upon learning of the new visitor center location. “This will be an asset to our entire community. The timing on this is great – it occurs just in time to welcome our winter guests. The new visitor center will truly be a destination for Collier County’s visitors and residents.”

City Manager Bill Moss agreed. “We are delighted The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and The Downtown Naples Association will be combining their Visitor Center operations in this terrific location. To have the center positioned at “Four Corners” ensures it will serve not only Collier County’s vital tourist trade but also our year round residents.”

The new visitor center is projected to officially open its doors no later than December 1st. The current main visitor center at 2390 Tamiami Trail North will be utilized as event, meeting and seminar space and will be available to the community at large for bookings. Chamber officials indicate one event has already been scheduled in the reconfigured space. For information on booking, contact Brenda O’Connor, Senior VP/Programs at 403-2902.

While the visitor center serves as an information hub for tourists, it also acts as a resource center for area residents.  Sheriff Kevin J. Rambosk commented, “We value our partnership with The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and look forward to continuing to work together in delivering information to our community to keep Collier County a great place and a safe place.”

“Consolidating the Chamber’s two visitor and resident information centers into one location provides for a convenient and comprehensive one-stop service,” said Collier County Manager Leo Ochs.  “I commend the Chamber for taking this proactive step to establish a high visibility information center for our visitors and residents.”