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2011 Rising Stars

The Independent News has been committed to developing a nurturing environment for the young adults in our community since its inception in July 1999. When community leaders started in 2005 to recognize that the 25-44 age group was leaving this area, the IN began an open dialogue with our readers, listening to their dreams, challenges and concerns.

We published issues on being a Pensacola 20-something (Independent News, “SWF: Single White Female,” April 7, 2005) and those who left Pensacola for greener pastures (Independent News, “Exiles,” May 11, 2006).

From the feedback from those issues and reader forums, we recognized the need for a group to harness the political power of this demographic group and facilitated with the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce the formation of the Pensacola Young Professionals a year later. We also worked to identify emerging leaders in the African-American community, such as Juanita Scott, Lumon May, Raymond Palmer and Rev. Lutimothy May, and to support their efforts to improve the urban core.

In 2008, our newspaper began our Rising Stars program to honor the leaders in the under-35 crowd. Independent News has published each January a list of Rising Stars, individuals who work or live in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties who are seen as the upcoming leaders in their professions and in the community. Each year, the number of nominees of talented men and women under the age of 35 grows, and our panel has a difficult time culling the list down to the top third.

This year’s list may be our most diverse. The 2011 Rising Stars include attorneys, educators, small business owners, pastors, chefs, engineers and emerging leaders from nearly every profession. Many were born and raised in the Pensacola area and have come back home to build their careers and to raise their families.

We asked all of this year’s Rising Stars what they would like to see in the greater Pensacola area in the next five years. For the fourth consecutive year, the completion of the Maritime Park was the top answer for many of them.

“Some of my favorite things include travel, dining out, baseball and music, so I would like to see the completion of the Community Maritime Park, including a successful baseball team and more waterfront restaurants,” said Laura Behr, Practice Operations Improvement Manager at Sacred Heart Health System.

“Pensacola desperately needs new business development to spur the local economy,” said Matthew M. Villmer, associate attorney with Emmanuel, Sheppard & Condon. “Construction of the Maritime Park is the first step in jump-starting this process.”

The young vote was critical to the passage of the 2006 Referendum for the Community Maritime Park, the new city charter and the recent election of Pensacola’s first strong mayor, Ashton Hayward. These Rising Stars expect things to change.

“There is always plenty of blame and credit to go around for the problems in a community,” said attorney Autumn Beck of Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson law firm. “Ultimately, leaders have to step up and be willing to share a little of both. There have been many changes in leadership this year in Pensacola. As new leaders take the helm, I would like to see a level of intellectual honesty descend upon all of them.  It does not matter if it is the old guard or the new; plans and ideas need to be evaluated and implemented based exclusively on the merit of the idea, not the source from which it came.”

There is also an expectation that we can be better. “We, as young adults of Pensacola, realize that we could have the best of both worlds if we could build our city to become a place of entertainment,” said Katie Rozier, owner of Indigeaux Denim Bar & Boutique. “We want to be able to graduate from college and be able to come back to Pensacola to find a great job, to be able to enjoy the night life, and then during the weekend to be less than 30 minutes away from a beautiful beach that most cities don’t have.”

“I would like to see the majority of the people who live in Pensacola understand the significance of the year 1559,” said Scott Wheatley, one of the founders of DeLuna Fest. “This is where the new world began. That should be a major point of local pride.”

One area that has continually ranked high for the IN Rising Stars has been education. “I believe in our public schools,” said Josh Rogers, Reliability Engineer at Gulf Power Company. “I believe in the unceasing pursuit of a school district where parents want to send their children, students want to learn, teachers want to teach, and employees want to work. This is our School District Vision, which holds my full commitment and support.”

Rising Star Rosie Cooper is an instructor at B.T. Washington High School and Pensacola State College. “I would like to see a bigger focus within the school system on positive behavioral intervention programs targeting at-risk students,” said Cooper. “With successful implementation of these types of programs, I believe we will begin to see a decrease in criminal activity and an increase in high school graduation rates. These changes are desperately needed and would be very welcome in our community.”

Hope for change, high expectations and the desire to make this community a better place for themselves, their families and future generations define the 2011 IN Rising Stars. The broad spectrum of professions, talents and ideas these men and women bring to Pensacola is impressive. Their passion is inspiring.

Our job is to listen, mentor and support these Rising Stars. They are our best weapon in halting the “brain drain” that has plagued Pensacola for the past decade. Great talent attracts great talent.

2011 Rising Stars

What Matters to Rising Stars

2011 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Job Creation
4. Arts & entertainment
5. Affordable housing
6. Healthcare for uninsured
7. Environment
8. Consolidation of government
9. Transportation

2010 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Environment
4. Arts & entertainment
5. Affordable housing
6. Healthcare for uninsured
7. Size and structure of local government
8. Consolidation of government
9. Transportation

2009 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Environment
4. Affordable housing
5. Healthcare for uninsured
6. Arts and entertainment
7. Consolidation of government
8. Size and structure of local government
9. Transportation

2008 Rising Stars
1. Attracting jobs and economic development
2. Education
3. Healthcare for uninsured
4. Environment
5. Affordable housing
6. Size and structure of local government
7. Arts and entertainment
8. Transportation
9. Code enforcement