Chambers of commerce across the Valley region still are involved in community parades and ribbon cuttings, but the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s survey of nearly 40 organizations shows their programs can be as diverse as the areas they serve.
For example, Terri Crain, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, says her organization will bring together industry representatives for an aerospace symposium in November.
The Santa Clarita Valley is home to Aerospace Dynamics International, Boeing’s Supplier of the Year for 2011, and is a bedroom community to employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But this is the first time the chamber has organized such an event.
“The last couple of years chambers have been forced to think outside the box,” she said, “and find new ways to bring value to their membership.”
Crain said she hopes to bring information to industry representatives. For example, aerospace companies are looking to hire veterans, but are finding it difficult to find applicants, she said. Local Congressman Buck McKeon chairs the Armed Forces Committee, and his staff could offer suggestions.
Sun Valley’s manufacturing, garbage and recycling industry demands that Executive Director Ann Walbert of the Sun Valley Area Chamber of Commerce takes a different approach than Crain.
It’s about “cleaning up” Sun Valley, said Walbert, whose donated office is located in a golf pro-shop, which is located on a driving range situated on top of a capped landfill.
“Community beautification is one of the tasks of the chamber because it’s such a dire need,” she said.
For years, the organization has been the contract holder to the city for the local Graffiti Busters program, which now operates under its own independent nonprofit, Sun Valley Graffiti Busters.
In Sun Valley,18-wheelers dominate the asphalt, and the roads wear out sooner than other cities. So the chamber pushes the City of Los Angeles to repave the roads in Sun Valley. About half of the roads here need it, she said.
Helping local businesses win public contracts is one focus of the Antelope Valley Black Chamber of Commerce.
As the city of Palmdale expects to build a high-speed rail station, President and CEO Rich Poston said local businesses should get a “first shot” at contracts coming down the pipeline. Instead of a Starbucks inside the station, he said he’d like to see a local café owner get preference.
The chamber has organized workshops and seminars educating contractors on the bidding process. Everyone is welcome to attend, he said, whether they are minorities or not.
“We’re opening doors,” he said, by teaching businesses how to apply. “You have to jump through all the hoops. And if you miss an item they kick your bid out.”
For city contracts, he and other local chamber presidents in Antelope Valley met with Palmdale city officials and asked them to ensure that local businesses get priority, such as landscaping bids. The result was the creation of a “local preference” ordinance adopted by the city.
In Studio City and Sherman Oaks, the respective chambers operate a farmers market. While the Sherman Oaks farmers market is currently on hiatus and hopes to come back in the spring, Studio City serves 3,000 to 4,000 customers every Sunday.
“We have everything from prepared foods to wood-fired ovens for pizzas…grass-fed beef, raw milk,” said Esther Walker, executive director of the Studio City Chamber of Commerce.
Part of her job is to work the farmers market on Sundays, starting at 6 a.m., and she estimates she spends a third of her workweek on the market. The endeavor is a joint project between the chamber foundation and the local residents’ association.
“It’s something we wanted to do for the community,” Walker said. The money covers part of her salary, but the proceeds are given back to the community through the chamber foundation.
She says she gets calls from other chambers asking about how to start a farmers market. They are looking for ways to add to their revenue stream, she said.
Like the aerospace symposium, other chambers are looking to test new events. This summer, the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce will organize a tech expo, said Operations Manager Michele Bennett. Open to the public, the expo will showcase advances in green technologies, along with “gadgets and gizmos,” she said.
Few people are aware that many area chambers provide Certificates of Origin for manufacturers shipping items overseas. Among those chambers offering the service are the Simi Valley, Sun Valley, Sherman Oaks, University City North Hollywood, North Valley and San Fernando. They help certify the paperwork some countries require to accompany items shipped overseas.
From her area, Bennett said there are prom dresses destined for Ukraine, bath and body products, baby products, motorcycle products, pools and Jacuzzis.
Many chambers also offer businesses a way to advertise inexpensively, including discounted advertising in local papers. The North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce took this one step further in 2001, publishing their own newspaper that is delivered to the doorsteps of 20,000 households each month.