Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Local chambers join forces, form an economic alliance

Resolving that their differences were way less important than their common goals, all four of the Vallejo area's chambers of commerce have joined forces to encourage local economic growth.
Leaders of the Solano County Black Chamber, the Filipino-American Chamber of Solano County, Inc., and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Solano /Napa, joined the Solano College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce at a meeting at the Vallejo Chamber's offices Tuesday. Under discussion were both the upcoming second all-chambers mixer later this month, and a business expo planned for November. The expo, the first in which the alliance will have a hand, is in its ninth year, organizers said.

The alliance was formed last year to "revitalize the business community in this area and advertise the city of Vallejo as a good place to do business with," said Hermie Sunga, head of the Filipino American chamber.

Though its formation was the result of cooperation between all the groups, Vallejo chamber head Rick Wells "really spearheaded it," said the Black Chamber's Veronica Stone.
The idea for an all-chamber alliance came to Wells during a mixer, he said.

"There are so many independent organizations with overlapping purposes," Wells said. "We wanted to increase communication between them and provide a regular venue to communicate. It's amazing how much we learn when we get together."

SBDC director Charles Eason said a similar coalition existed some years ago and included the city of Vallejo and downtown business groups. But city funding for the group became a budget casualty two years ago and the effort fizzled. Besides, it was never as cohesive and cooperative as the new alliance is turning out to be, organizers said.

Until the alliance formed, the smaller, ethnic chambers operated more or less in a vacuum, providing services for their individual members, while the Vallejo Chamber dealt with larger issues, the leaders said.

Stone said the ethnic chambers serve a niche market and help smaller, less-experienced entrepreneurs feel comfortable among other business owners.
"Some business owners join our chamber, for example, because they want to be identified as an African-American business," Stone said. "Also, we can focus on the special needs of our members."

Ethnic chambers can also help business owners with language barriers, Martinez said.
Stone said past attempts at chamber cooperation were only marginally successful. The events the alliance has produced have been hugely successful by comparison. An all-chamber mixer held last year, the first the alliance produced, drew hundreds of participants, organizers said. In comparison, a typical chamber mixer draws dozens of business owners, the said.

None of the Tuesday meeting's participants could definitively explain what may have made the difference, except that perhaps it involved a gelling of the right combination of personalities.
"The time wasn't right" until now, said SBDC's Sandy Stelter.

"We all want a stronger local economy, which results in a better quality of life for everyone who lives in this city," Wells said. "More jobs, better jobs, a strong diverse business community. We all want that."

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