Colombian-born Javier Marin has a passion for helping small business owners in Polk County and wants to strengthen all of the county's communities.
He believes his new role as director of business development with the Central Florida Development Council will help him do just that. The Business Observer recently met with Marin to find out more about his new position and his goals for Polk County.
Down south: Marin left Colombia for the United States when he was 17, but he always thought he'd return to his roots. “Colombia, politically and economically, has a ways to go,” he says. “I saw there was a lot of opportunity here in the U.S.” So he stayed, settling in the New Jersey area.
Mi familia: During college, Marin met his first wife and they had three daughters. They lived in the Northeast and a few years in Sweden, where Marin worked in electronics with a friend and at the post office. “We were living back and forth between the U.S. and Sweden,” he says. He later remarried, and he and his second wife had two children. Marin's oldest child holds a doctorate and is an assistant professor of political science at the University of South Dakota. The others are all successful, and he has a 14-year-old living at home.
Warmer weather: While living in the Northeast, Marin and his family visited Florida — with family in Orlando and Miami — and they grew tired of the winters. “We fell in love with it here,” Marin says. “We were sold on (Polk County).” They moved to Lakeland in 2006.
Never too late: Marin, now 50, didn't get his associates of arts degree until the mid-1990s in New Jersey. “I achieved a lot with an AA degree, but a bachelor's and master's open more doors to be more useful in the community,” he says. He received his bachelor's in public administration from Polk State five years ago and is working on a master's in accounting at the University of South Florida. “I had a hectic life. When I moved to Florida, I decided I wanted to go back.”
Up North: Marin worked in banking for 22 years and moved up the corporate ladder holding the high-up positions of CEO of a small credit union, manager at Chase Bank and vice president at SunTrust. Before moving South, he dabbled in New Jersey politics, serving on the school board. He served two years as mayor of Dover, N.J., a New York City and Newark suburb. But it kept him so busy that he wasn't home much. “I learned to pay more attention to my family,” Marin says. “I still had a young family, and I was too involved in trying to help the city.”
Need for change: Marin worked for SunTrust for seven years and then left the banking industry. “I felt I could do more for business owners than just banking services,” he says. In 2013, he came joined the Small Business Development Center at USF in Polk County to help local businesses identify their needs and help them grow. Marin was named the SBDC 2016 Florida Star of the Year. “When your clients and peers recognize your efforts, it's amazing, and it's nice for my family to see my hard work,” he says.
Dual role: Marin's new role includes leading the Polk Global Trade Alliance and providing support to local economic development councils, including Winter Haven, Lakeland, Lake Wales, Haines City and Bartow. “There are two things that are critical: community development and business development,” Marin says. “We want to make all Polk County communities ready for development. It can take awhile to come up with a plan. It's a community effort. When any area in Polk County improves, we all improve.”
Global economy: Marin is passionate about leveraging every business to increase its sales and opportunities because we are easily connected to other parts of the world. “The U.S. brand is still strong,” he says. “It may not be the cheapest, but it's one of the best. We are in a global economy. The U.S. has always played a role, but we import more than we export. We are facing a trade deficit.” One of Marin's first tasks will be to write a metro-export plan to aid Polk County's small businesses find export opportunities.
A growing county: Polk County should grow at least at 40% during the next 15 years, Marin says, adding that the county already has 11,000 companies. And the CFDC continues to support efforts to find high-tech, high-wage jobs. Being along the I-4 corridor and between Orlando and Tampa, forces the CFDC to be an active player, partnering with other regions, Marin says. “These are all aggressive initiatives,” he says.