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Orlando Sentinel

Chamber Exec To Take On Challenges

By Frank Stanfield

MAY 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

KISSIMMEE -- It is better to hop aboard and try to drive a speeding train than to stand by and watch it pass.

That's not exactly the way the upcoming Chamber of Commerce chairwoman phrases it, but it seems to be the way Marilyn Balaban wants to tackle the job.

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

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

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

"We work together," said Balaban, 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 chairwoman of Minority Leadership Development.

She has been on the Community Vision board and Leadership Osceola. She credits her bosses at the Ventura Downs Banking Center for their support.

She has spent much of her 20-year career in banking to rolling up her sleeves and getting involved.

The bank vice president and banking-center manager would like to see others do the same thing.

Census records show 30 percent of Osceola's population to be Hispanic.

That's one reason Balaban, a native of Puerto Rico, said she 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 said she would like to see other minorities take their place in leadership in the community.

They're busy nourishing their businesses, but the community will become stronger with diversity, she said.

Another key goal is to diversify industry.

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

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