• Forward Thinking: Chamber Leadership Focuses on Community Impact at Annual Board Retreat

    Over the next 2-4 years, where should the Santa Maria Valley Chamber focus their efforts in order to have the most positive impact on our local community? That was the question posed to Chamber staff and leadership at their annual board retreat, where the focus was centered around thinking big and tackling major community issues.


    “Coming out of the pandemic and finally seeing our community reopen again, the timing was right to work with our staff and board on long term planning for our organization,” said Glenn Morris, President/CEO for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber. “Instead of looking at our existing programs and communications, we really wanted to get our organization thinking about some major, long term project and goals we’d like to focus on over the next 2-4 years, where we can leverage the strengths and mission of the Chamber to have a positive impact on the Santa Maria Valley community.”


    The retreat, a hybrid event held at the Radisson in Santa Maria and available on zoom, began with presentations from city and regional leaders. 


    Melissa James, President & CEO for the regional organization REACH Central Coast, gave an overview of major regional projects their organization is focusing on, assets in the Santa Maria Valley area and ideas of where the Chamber may be able to have a positive impact. James touched on ideas such as creating a startup ecosystem in the Santa Maria Valley, expanding the use of the Santa Maria Airport, supporting Vandenberg Space Force Base in their commercial expansion, and leveraging local assets to become a regional leader in AgTech.


    The group then received a more local perspective from Santa Maria City Manager Jason Stilwell, who provided an overview of the City’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and discussed how the City and Chamber could partner to tackle some of these projects and priorities. Stilwell saw opportunity for City and Chamber collaboration on issues including new and changing business regulations, public infrastructure and safety, and reclaiming/establishing a positive identity for Santa Maria Valley in the regional conversation.


    Glenn followed the presentations by sharing results from a recent community impact survey, so the group could better understand what local businesses and residents saw as community strengths and areas needing improvement in the Santa Maria Valley.


    While the morning presentations focused on giving context and ideas to what projects the Chamber may want to take on, the speakers in the afternoon were Chamber industry professionals who discussed the logistics of tackling major, long term community projects.


    “The morning presentations gave a regional and local lens on what specific areas the Chamber may want to play a role in,” Morris said. “Our afternoon presenters then talked about the logistics in tackling large community projects, the role Chambers should play in this space, and the success other Chambers have seen in doing so.”


    Dave Kilby, Executive Vice President for CalChamber and President/CEO for the Western Association of Chamber Executives, talked about the important role Chambers should be playing in tackling major community issues, and cited a number of specific examples where Chambers were involved in solving major problems in their communities.


    The final speaker was Chris Romer, President & CEO for the Vail Valley Partnership in Colorado. Romer, whose organization is known for tackling major community issues, talked in a broader sense about how the Chamber can be successful in this space. His advice included selecting priorities that are aligned with the Chamber’s mission and that the community says are important, and leveraging community partnerships to help move projects forward.


    “We felt it was important our Board and staff see specific examples of other Chambers having success in tackling these major community issues,” Morris said. “What’s great about hosting a hybrid event is we can have nationally recognized leaders in the Chamber industry give these presentations virtually. Both Kilby and Romer did a great job discussing the feasibility and logistics of taking on longterm community projects, and were a great segway into our own planning discussion.”


    After hearing the four presentations, the board then discussed their thoughts on where the Chamber should focus their efforts in bettering the local community. 


    “Learning about successful regional partnering and thinking big was great preparation for our own Chamber Board members to digest prior to our discussion of the key things we want to accomplish in the Santa Maria Valley,” explained Danny Deveraux, incoming Board Chair for the Chamber. 


    Major themes that emerged from the board discussion included:


    • Improving the local downtown/assisting with moving the Downtown Specific Plan forward
    • Developing a brand/identity for the Santa Maria Valley that highlights the assets of our community and showcases the region in a more positive light
    • Local workforce development

    Over the next month, the Chamber plans to review the Board’s feedback, determine which projects best align with the Chamber’s mission, and develop a plan with short term and long term goals.


    “I was pleased with the discussion, and the enthusiasm our Chamber leadership has for thinking big. It gives me confidence that wherever our focus ends up being, the work our organization does will have a positive impact on the Santa Maria Valley over the coming years,” Morris said. “The Santa Maria Valley Chamber prides itself on being a champion for a stronger community, and we are proud to have staff, leadership and partners who recognize our role in tackling these large scale community issues.”