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El Sentinel

Hispanic Banker To Head Chamber

By Frank Stanfield

May 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002
El Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

KISSIMMEE -- It's better to hop aboard and try to steer a speeding train than to stand by and watch it pass.

That's not exactly the way the new chamber of commerce chairman phrases it, but it seems to be the way Marilyn Balabán wants to tackle the job.

"Growth is the challenge," said Balabán, a Bank of America executive who has been selected as the 2004 chairwoman of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce -- the first Hispanic tapped to lead the business organization.

"We're growing very rapidly," Balabán said. "Unfortunately, there are not enough schools."

Balabán has a way of looking at challenges as an opportunity. The chamber meets with city and county government officials and the School Board in an effort to improve the community.

"We work together," said Balabán, 38, who knows the importance of building a grass-roots network.

In 1996, she became a committee member of the chamber's Hispanic Business Council, and later its chairwoman. She also became a chamber board member and served such organizations as Junior Achievement, March of Dimes, United Way, and this year was vice chair of the Minority Leadership Development. She also has been on the Community Vision board and Leadership Osceola.

She credits her bosses at the Ventura Downs Banking Center for their support, but she has spent much of her 20-year career in banking rolling up her sleeves and getting involved.

Now, the bank vice president and banking-center manager would like to see many others do the same thing. Census records show 30 percent of Osceola's population to be Hispanic.

It's one reason that Balabán, a native of Puerto Rico, has been so successful. Customers like to have a "comfort zone," whether it is language or some other shared bit of culture, she said.

She would like to see other minorities take their place in leadership, including African Americans and a growing number of doctors of Asian descent who operate a long line of offices on U.S. Highway 192.

They're busy nourishing their businesses, but the community will become stronger with diversity, she said. Another key goal, of course, is to diversify industry.

"You don't want to be all about tourism," she said.

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