November 2022 eNews Guest Editor, Rachel Sutz Pienta (LT 31)

I had no intention of applying for Leadership Tallahassee. I did not think the Leadership Tallahassee experience was for me. The deadline was a week away. In fact, I had already fulfilled a recommendation request for someone else to apply for Class 31. Then, I got a call from former Wakulla County Commissioner Alan Brock (Class 30). Alan had regaled me with stories of his experience throughout the year.  He encouraged me to apply and even offered to write my letter of recommendation.  I was still reluctant and very skeptical.  I asked him, “Why would I want to do this?”

Alan is persuasive. In fact, the reason I have a Twitter account is because Alan Brock convinced me to do it. If any of you follow my @wakullawriter account, then you know how that worked out. He was right, having a Twitter presence turned out to be a good move for me.

He told me more about his own positive experience and then he sealed the deal when he said, “You are going to get a lot out of this experience personally. You are also going to be able to do a lot for Wakulla County if you do this.” That last part was the final hook that convinced me. Representing Wakulla County on a regional level has been one of my passion projects since I moved to Crawfordville from Tallahassee in 2005. Spoiler alert: I was accepted into Class 31. So was the person I recommended.

I need to mention that I did not expect to fall in love with Wakulla County. When we built our home here in 2005, I do not think I could have envisioned the community leadership opportunities that would become available to me. At one point, my husband Dave and I thought we might make career moves that would necessitate leaving the area. That never happened. The longer we stayed, the deeper our roots grew. I often tell people, “I wasn’t born in Wakulla, but I got here as soon as I could.”

Since my Leadership Tallahassee class year almost ten years ago, I left traditional academia for a non-profit role and then accepted a position with University of Florida Cooperative Extension.  Since 2017, I have been a faculty member with the UF Institute of Food and Agriculture Science serving as the 4-H agent in Wakulla County. 

As a non-profit executive, I was responsible for a 14-county market that included Tallahassee. My experience in Leadership Tallahassee helped me to become more knowledgeable about the business sector. That experience proved invaluable during those years and would later play an important role in helping me to serve in a leadership role with the Wakulla business community.

After accepting my current role with the University of Florida, I leaned into community leadership roles with the Wakulla Chamber of Commerce.  The Wakulla Chamber has one employee.  Each year, the board chair serves as President and de facto CEO of the organization – managing that employee and Chamber operations. In 2019, after completing a full four-year rotation of the executive board roles, I moved into the President position. It was during this year that my Leadership Tallahassee relationships became a leadership lifeline that offered knowledge and support.  

During my year as President, with the help and support of Leadership Tallahassee relationships, I worked with my Wakulla Chamber team members to lay the groundwork to grow our economic development efforts, implemented programs that added value to the Chamber membership while also growing revenue, and brought regional expertise into the local business community with a revitalized “Lunch and Learn” workshop program. Since 2019, the Chamber helped the Economic Development Council transition from being a Chamber committee to functioning as a stand-alone entity with paid staff. In 2022, the Chamber of Commerce made the leap from having an administrative support employee to hiring a full-time Executive Director. Along the way, the Wakulla County economic engine has continued to grow – attracting new business opportunities and additional residents. 

Now, when Leadership Tallahassee application deadlines are approaching, I am the one encouraging applicants and writing recommendation letters.


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