José Fajardo

Orlando, Inc. Executive Vice President

A regional economy thrives in opportunistic times, and survives in challenging times, because of its connectedness. Those connections are what drive ideas to results. Orlando, Inc., also known as the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation’s elite Five-Star Chambers, is one of the principle lines of business of the Central Florida Partnership. Its executive vice president, José Fajardo, is a tireless ambassador of the region, celebrating and advocating for regional entrepreneurship and helping to facilitate connections between businesses of all sizes and the leaders of the public, private and independent sectors.

EW: You’re involved in many of the projects of both Orlando, Inc. and the Central Florida Partnership. What is one of the most important stories about the area that isn’t being told?

JF: I would say that Orlando is maturing as a place where people can start their business, grow their business and then sell their business.But it is also a place to stay, because of the great opportunities to reinvest in the community and other businesses.

EW: Though you and the Chamber seem to fit like a glove, where did your career begin?  

JF: At 12-years-old, I realized I had a love for radio and television. Everything I did in high school and then in college was designed to get me into a broadcasting career. Right out of college, I got a job as a newspaper reporter and then moved into television. But I soon realized I wanted to get into leadership and management and not just be a person covering the news. At 29, I began managing a PBS radio and television station in Texas. 

EW: What brought you to Orlando, Inc. and the Central Florida Partnership?  

JF: An opportunity came up with 90.7 WMFE in Central Florida, which at the time I believe was the 19th largest market, whereas as the station I managed in Texas was 148th. I began in 1996 as director of radio programming and within a few years, I was promoted to VP of programming for both TV and radio. Then, I was appointed by the board to succeed the CEO and president who had been there 45 years.  

At that time, the radio side of the business was growing, but the PBS television station was struggling. We decided to sell the television side and ultimately, UCF bought the station. The result was that both the radio and the television stations flourished. I told the board that once the transaction was completed, the level of managerial hierarchy could and should be scaled back. I decided I wanted to stay in Orlando since it had become home. During the entire time I was with WMFE, I was involved with the Chamber, which included producing a week-long series of programs about the initiative, “How Shall We Grow?” with Channel 6.

I started a consulting company and discovered there was an opportunity to step into the role as executive vice president of the Chamber in August 2013. It seems like a quantum leap from broadcasting to the chamber, but there were a lot of similarities, as both have a membership-driven business model.

EW: What do you enjoy most about this position?  

JF: I love working with the true local businesses who are looking for a connection — a connection to the community, to growth opportunities or to a broader network. I’m a connector and when I see that happen, it literally makes my day. We also work with legacy businesses that have and are shaping the community; they see us as a connector to what is happening in the region and in Tallahassee or Washington. 

EW: Jacob Stuart, president of Central Florida Partnership, is an icon in Central Florida, both because of the initiatives he has championed and the longevity in his position. What are the key things you have learned from him before you came and since? 

JF: Jacob has a way of making everyone he introduces feel like they are the most special person in the room at that moment. I will never forget the first time we went around the room introducing ourselves and the way he made me feel. I’ve always tried to make others have that same experience at that moment. He is also the most enthusiastic cheerleader for our community.  We need someone who collectively can say, “We’re good! Hear us, see us and utilize us.” Honestly, he is also very humble; he always puts the work of the volunteers ahead of the work that internally we do as a Chamber. He wants others to take the credit for the work, since they are making the sacrifice to volunteer. 

EW: What has been your biggest surprise moving from the outside in?  

JF: We are involved in so many areas that most people don’t know about, moving forward the conversation about many of the important initiatives in the region. I thought the Chamber was a networking organization, but we are facilitating discussions on homelessness, on marketing SunRail and getting the downtown venues built. The list goes on from international trade, to sources of capital, transportation, water and sustaining and retaining the talent pipeline. These are not subjects traditional chambers are usually involved in, but we are – not only in the Central Florida Partnership, but also in the Chamber. I was surprised to see how many of these initiatives we were at the center of convening the conversation.

EW: Many Chambers take almost a neutral posture in what could be controversial or divisive issues, but Orlando, Inc. has been at the forefront of the debate, facilitating the dialogue. Why is that? 

JF: We see these projects as something that will enhance our competitive edge for jobs and a better quality of life. For instance, we were advocates of the half penny sales tax because we saw building better schools as a jobs play. SunRail and I-4 Ultimate are projects that can and will increase jobs in the future. The question that we ask, regardless of how many feathers it may ruffle, is: ‘Is it good for our community and our region?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we are going to take that role of educating the business community about the benefits and impact. 

EW:We are thoughtful leaders united by a single, guiding principle – that we have both the power and the responsibility to make change happen,’ and ‘moving ideas to results.’ Can you unpack those statements about Central Florida Partnership? 

JF: They are pretty amazing statements, aren’t they? A lot of communities think about important things, and there is a lot of chatter about significant issues, but when you can move the conversation towards results, then you have impact. I’m not sure there is anyone better at facilitating that than Jacob. It is all about pushing people towards the next step and measuring our progress in that direction. All the major issues we mentioned earlier and others I didn’t mention, like Major League Soccer, began with a conversation, but it didn’t end with just a conversation; we of course can’t take the credit for these successes. But that is what the Partnership is all about: initiating or stimulating the creative conversations, and then moving them towards actions. Today I feel like a resident, not of a particular city or county, but of the region.

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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