By STEVE STEINER
The selection of Ashley Hofecker as the new president and CEO of The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce could be categorized as that of a mutual admiration society.
The Brooksville native wanted to do more than she already was achieving on behalf of her community (and the county), and chamber board members wanted someone who was already an integral part of the community. Her predecessor, Morris Porton, who was named president/CEO in August 2020 and had recently announced he was retiring, called Hofecker’s selection the best decision that could have been made.
Porton had come out of semi-retirement following 40-plus years in the banking industry when he had been tapped as chamber president/CEO, which was followed by owning a gym and then leading a consultancy agency.
Following the past two-plus years, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, he felt the time was ripe to move on to the next stage in life.
“I kind of want to take a break,” he said. Porton also felt the moment was right to infuse the chamber with a new vision. “I felt it was time for the chamber to take on new leadership.”
So, when Hofecker learned the chamber was seeking Porton’s successor, she put in her application. For her, becoming president/CEO would be a natural progression, including the fact she has been a member of the chamber for the past ten years. Plus, there was her direct involvement in the community and the connections she has established and built in her career.
“I’ve worked in local and state government,” said Hofecker. She was the community engagement director at a local nonprofit (MidFlorida Community Services) for the past four years prior to being named the new president/CEO of the chamber, which she took over on May 1. “It’s a great honor to serve the entire Hernando County in this role.”
The transition is a smooth one, as Porton is staying on in an advisory capacity, bringing Hofecker up to speed. She has a number of challenges before her, beginning with the fact that while recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is progressing, some of its impact is still felt.
However, thanks in great measure to Porton’s efforts, the challenges Hofecker faces in that regard are possibly minimal. For example, major fundraising events for the benefit of members are now up to eight.
Keeping up with the county’s growth will be a challenge. Hernando County’s population is approximately 200,000 residents, and many new developments are underway. Plus, in part, because Brooksville is the only incorporated municipality in the county, the chamber is the only one. (In comparison, Polk County has several chambers, including those in Bartow, the greater Haines City region, Lakeland and Winter Haven, to name a few.)
Again, though, Hofecker has a foundation upon which to further build the chamber’s legacy.
“My vision is to build on the success of those who came before me,” she said. That vision will include looking at new ways to engage current members and attract prospects. “As you can imagine, there’s a lot to learn.”
Among her plans is emphasizing effort on the eastern part of Hernando County, which consists of Ridge Manor. She also plans on shoring up the numerous small businesses. “The membership is quite diverse,” she said, to which Porton estimated that 75 percent are those that employ from one to five people. “It shows that small business is the cornerstone of our community and the backbone of our economy.”
Programs currently in effect or in the works include (or will include) training and networking, as well as working in conjunction with Brooksville Main Street. However, Hofecker is undaunted and looks forward to what she hopes will be a lengthy tenure.
As for Porton, he said he had “some irons in the fire” but declined to elaborate. However, he will always be involved in one capacity or another, even if it only means “cheering from the sidelines.”
“I’ll always be a big supporter of the chamber,” he said. “It’s a good organization.”