Glenn Morris, President/CEO, Santa Maria Valley Chamber
One of the core elements of the Chamber’s updated mission is to be a Convener of leaders and influencers, specifically on issues that impact the broader business and employer community.
What is a convener? One definition I like says a convener is an individual or group responsible for bringing people together to address an issue, problem, or opportunity.
That definition fits perfectly Chambers and is a role that the Santa Maria Valley Chamber is working to become better at filling as we expand our activity as a convener.
Recent examples of the Chamber serving as a convener in Santa Maria range from project specific to broad, long-range community needs. Some examples include:
Industry Education Council. Partnering with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, the Chamber is reconstituting the Industry Education Council as a clearinghouse and coordinating council for organizations working on youth education issues. Through our participation in the Mayor’s Taskforce on Youth Safety, it became obvious that there are a lot of programs and organizations trying to prepare local youth for the workforce and provide them with work experiences. What seemed to be missing was a level of coordination that ensured the players knew each other and had the opportunity partner when it made sense, avoid duplication, and share resources to maximize our collective impact. Recognizing that ensuring a strong pipeline of future workers is a critical need for our business members, the Chamber is stepping in to convene this group going forward.
Business Roundtable – Impacts of Homelessness on Business. At the request of the United Way/Home for Good, the Chamber recently convened a roundtable to connect businesses who are experiencing impacts from homeless-related issues with the professionals who are trying to work with those living on our streets. We were able to start a good dialogue about what needs businesses have in this area, and what some potential strategies might be that can be tried to address those needs. The Chamber will continue to bring businesses together on this issue as needed, and will use this model when we think it will help.
Other examples of ways that the Chamber uses its role as a convener include the Build Your Business breakfast (held every Friday at 8am at Denny’s) and our Chamber Mixers, which bring businesses together to network and find ways to do business together. The Economic Development Commission is another example where the Chamber convenes leaders in the development community to identify ways to make the Santa Maria Valley more economically vibrant.
Historically, Chambers have positioned themselves as the “voice of business.” Often, that led to Chamber staff and key volunteers being very active in community discussions, sharing perspective and potential impact of issues on behalf of the business community. We continue to do that work, but particularly when we deal with community-wide, long-term impact issues, we recognize that we will be more effective facilitating the participation of actual business owners. The Santa Maria Valley Chamber is committed to making sure our businesses are informed about issues that might impact their ability to successful conduct business – and to convening leaders to make sure the employer voice is part of the search for solutions.
Individual business leaders can help by sharing with the Chamber the “issues, problems, and opportunities” that most need addressing and also by engaging when the Chamber reaches out to convene leaders and influencers to craft solutions!