Notable Neighbors

August 8, 2023 at 4:51 p.m.

By DEAN LAUX Columnist



This Onetime ‘Rebel’ Has Many A Cause To Advocate For

Though he was born in Cutchogue, N.Y., Douglas P. Izzo considers himself a native of Englewood, Florida, and well he might. He was only about a year old when his family moved to this charming community, and he’s pretty much been here ever since. “This is my town,” he avers, “and I love it.”

But that doesn’t mean he loved everything about it during his early years. His two brothers, Michael and Brian, were respectively eight and four years older than he was – a big gap for a little tot. “I didn’t get along with Brian and we didn’t play together,” Doug remembers. “And Michael went away to college when I was ten years old. I was pretty much an only child. My parents were my best friends.” And they treated him as if he were much older than his actual age. He got his first golf clubs at age five, and a motorized minibike when he was eight – a tad early for a tyke on a bike, since the minimum driving age was 16. “The police escorted me home one time,” he confesses with a wry smile.

However, in middle school things were different. “I used to get in trouble all the time, because the teachers thought they were talking to a child. They didn’t treat us as people.” Doug wasn’t used to that kind of treatment, and he rebelled. “I guess you could say I was outspoken,” he concedes, and that resulted in frequent visits to the principal’s office.

High school wasn’t much better, in Doug’s opinion, but he had two distractions: work and politics. As for work, at age 13 he founded and owned Tropical Breeze Property Management, LLC. “It actually started with me mowing lawns, and then I started taking care of pools, and then I started watching houses for friends of our family when they went away. They needed someone to go in their house, check it out and make sure it didn’t flood. Or if they were renting out the house, they needed to be sure the renters weren’t trashing it. I’d let them know if anything broke or needed to be repaired.” He kept the business going and growing for five years, until he went away to college. Meanwhile, he also helped out as an intern at the Englewood Chamber of Commerce during his senior year.

As for politics, Doug founded and was president of a local political club when he was a junior at Lemon Bay High School, “and the teachers liked me even less for that,” he says. How did he develop a political view so early in his lifetime? “My parents owned the Rotonda Pizza and Subs restaurant. They were always there, and everybody knew them. People would come in and talk to them, whether it was about the local schoolboard or national politics. People called my dad the mayor of Englewood.” Doug was usually at the restaurant too, and he listened to what the folks and his dad had to say.

“Then I went to a rally for George W. Bush, who was running for re-election in 2004,” Doug recalls. “It was just the atmosphere, watching the helicopters come in, hearing the crowd roar and the music play. It was very exciting. I think that’s what really got me hooked.” 

While Doug was still in high school he became the campaign manager for a man who ran for County Commissioner. “I knew him, he needed somebody to manage his campaign, and I said I would do it. He won, so I guess you could say I did pretty well.” Indeed, not bad for a teenager who worked while his classmates played.

“I didn’t like school, and I didn’t want to go to college,” Doug admits. “I knew I could make money in the short term doing things like construction, but if I ever wanted to have a 401(k) and benefits, I needed to get a job that was available only to people with college experience.” So he enrolled at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a small school, and expensive, but Mom and Dad paid the tuition, and it turned out to be a great decision.

Doug got straight A’s at Eckerd. “I spoke out a lot in high school, and my grades suffered as a result,” he says. “At Eckerd I kept my mouth shut and listened, and my grades improved. The classes were small, and not only did you have individual teachers you could talk with, but they had mentors who made sure you stayed on your path to graduation.”

Doug took early morning classes, worked at a job in the afternoon, came home, did his homework and then attended nighttime classes as well. “I really didn’t have much time for socializing,” he says. “A lot of people party and let loose when they go to college, but I had already done that when I was in high school.”

Doug graduated from Eckerd in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and minors in political science and business management. During his senior year he had worked for the nearby Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, learning the intricacies of setting up and running networking mixers, business workshops and luncheons, acting as liaison between Chamber offices and communicating with Chamber members. Upon graduation he took a fulltime position with the TBB Chamber in government affairs and also as head of the community advocacy committee.  “I was basically a lobbyist for the business community at the local, state and federal level,” he says. He went to Tallahassee every year for sessions, and he testified in hearings before the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. on several occasions. “I loved lobbying, but not at the state level,” he asserts. “They’ve been talking about the same issues for ten years. It’s like Groundhog Day. I love working more at the local level, because there is a real impact that you can make, and that’s what I like to see.”

He stayed on at TBB for almost eight years, learning every phase of running a chamber of commerce. And along the way he held an elective office as Commissioner, District 2 of St. Pete Beach. “Actually, I was appointed the first time,” he acknowledges. “Then there were two elections after that, but I was unopposed. So I really didn’t win an election, but for me not to have anybody run against me, it must have meant I was doing a pretty good job.”

Doug gave up the commissioner’s job when he left the St. Pete area to take the position of Executive Director of the Englewood Chamber of Commerce in 2021. He had to go through a detailed vetting process to get the job here. What sold them? “I think it’s the fact that I worked in a chamber of commerce my whole life,” Doug says. “I interned here in high school. When they asked me questions during the interview I answered them correctly. This organization is run by its members; it’s not run by me. I do what the membership wants. Committee meetings can be like herding cats, but they’re necessary to get a good feel for what the membership wants.” And as executive director and head of the advocacy committee, Doug is the one who pulls it all together to make things happen.

The Englewood Chamber is a rarity among such organizations. Most chambers limit memberships to businesses, not individuals. “We have a lot of community members who don’t have a business, but they want to join because they support the work that we’re doing for the community,” Doug points out. “Also, Englewood is unincorporated. It’s not a city. There’s no city hall, so I like to treat the Chamber as city hall. If a resident comes in with an issue that needs to be resolved and they’re not a member and they’re not a business, I’ll still help them. I think it gives us more value, bringing these people in to connect with the businesses. The more we can do that, the better.”

Furthermore, Englewood embraces parts of two counties, Sarasota and Charlotte, and although both counties have to abide by the same state laws, they often interpret the laws differently. This makes Douglas Izzo’s job a little trickier. Luckily, his eight years in government affairs help him avoid any impasse in these situations.

“I think we’re a finely tuned, well-oiled machine,” Doug declares. “The staff is great, and our Board members understand their roles. They’re here to guide the organization, to make sure the wheels don’t fall off the track. I try to keep a very professional relationship with them and not get involved on a personal level. We’re business partners, and I think it’s best to keep it that way.”

In spite of the difficulties that they, like everyone else, suffered during the Covid epidemic and after Hurricane Ian, the Chamber is coping well under Doug’s leadership. “I’m living the dream,” he says. “Englewood is one of the small, Olde Florida towns in the state. It’s beautiful, with the waterways and all the greenery. We’re all lucky to be living here.”

And we’re all lucky to have that erstwhile young rebel as the Number 1 advocate for our cause.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.