Workspace: Dan Dawson, JAX Chamber communications director
On his second weekend back in Jacksonville, Dan Dawson made his way to a familiar place.
His first week as communications director at the JAX Chamber had been a whirlwind. And only a weekend had separated starting that job from his previous high-intensity gig as press secretary for the Florida Senate.
Dawson made his way toward the beach that Saturday in mid-August. Toward the place he had surfed, where he graduated from high school, where he went to church.
He went to Angie's Subs and ordered a much-needed taste of home — a Peruvian sub and banana pudding.
"All of a sudden, I got a flood of nostalgia," said Dawson, 27, a 2004 graduate of Fletcher High School.
His parents, John and Jane, were thrilled to have Dawson back in town for more than a visit after nearly 10 years.
And it meant their empty nest wasn't empty anymore. Their youngest son, David, had just left home to attend Florida State University and their middle son, Matt, is an Air Force officer in Hawaii.
"They were able to have one of their boys in town," said Dawson, a fifth-generation Jacksonville native.
He left town in 2004 to go to FSU, where he started studying political science. Unsure how he'd make a career out of it, he changed his major to finance. He had a cousin who worked in the field who said he'd help him get a job after graduation.
Dawson had an internship lined up to work on Wall Street one summer. It happened to be just before the market crash. When the internship didn't work out, it left him with no plans for the summer.
That's when Dawson's career in politics began: working on a state House campaign, an internship with the Florida Republican Party and working on campaigns for Jeff Atwater and Jon Huntsman.
On the Huntsman campaign, he became "war-room manager," a job that started at 4:30 every morning and required managing a staff to continuously monitor news channels and pitch stories.
"It was one of the best-worst jobs I've ever had," Dawson said.
When Huntsman dropped out of the presidential race, Dawson returned to the state Republican Party as its new media director.
Ultimately, he ended up as press secretary for the Florida Senate before being recruited away by chamber President Daniel Davis.
In the near-decade Dawson was in Tallahassee, Jacksonville had changed. "I came back mainly because I feel there's palpable energy in Jacksonville," Dawson said. "We're on the verge of pushing over the top."
He is concentrating on "really helping to unify the branding" of the chamber, including sharing information through more digital arenas.
That's why he's often carrying an oversized camera bag, loaded with gear for shooting video and photographs. He's also using his self-taught coding skills to improve the chamber's web presence, including building its deepwaternow.com microsite in one long, overnight shift.
Dawson is clearly not the stereotypical chamber executive. He's young, a connoisseur of social media and a touch of a techy nerd.
And then there's his hair.
If his hair was blond, it would be perfect for a surfer. A little long, a touch windswept and just enough out of place to look carefree.
"People ask to touch my hair," he said.
Do they actually do it?
"Yeah, they do," he said. "It totally happens."