June 30, 2020
Today is my last Strictly Business and my last day as the President/CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber. This ends my 38-year Chamber career – 12 years at the Covina Chamber and 26 years in Long Beach. Retiring during this COVID environment is not the way I wanted to leave but we can’t always choose our fate. I’m very happy that Jeremy Harris will be taking the helm on July 1 after seven years as our Senior VP. Three years ago our board contracted Jeremy to replace me and I’m very proud of this seven-year succession plan, it’s something very rare in the Chamber industry! Jeremy was the President/CEO of the Garden Grove Chamber when I hired him in 2013. I knew him for many years because he worked closely with our VP Shaun Lumachi, who was killed tragically in an auto accident in 2011. Jeremy is a graduate of CSULB and is very active in the community, and as many of you know, he is well-liked and respected. He will do a great job leading our organization despite taking over in maybe one of the most challenging times of our Chamber’s 129-year history.
As I reflect on the almost four decades of my Chamber work I’m very proud of many things but I’d like to share a few for which I’m most proud of:
My Relationship with My Leadership
I’ve estimated that I have worked with over 400 different board members, 40 different Chairmen of the Board, and have gotten to know these leaders very well. I can’t mention all of them by name but allow me to thank Diane Creel of Earth Tech for hiring me and giving me the best job of my life in April 1994. Thanks to John Bishop of MemorialCare for saying yes to be my last Chair. I’m proud to say that I have had a dozen small business owners as our Chair and had the opportunity to work with 10 female Chairs over the years.
My Wonderful Staff
Thank you to the wonderful Chamber staff starting with Judy Nelson, our VP of Business Councils and who has been with us 32 years; Ajmaa Heggie our Controller; Amanda Donahue my Executive Assistant and Special Events Manager; Christine Bos, our Government Affairs Manager; Marilynn Singer our Membership Coordinator; and of course Jeremy Harris, our Senior VP. They are like a second family to me and I will miss working with them.
Small Business Support
I’m very proud of everything our Chamber has done to support small business, which makes up 90% of our membership. Our work has included advocating for a reduction of city business licensing fees, as well as assisting a 5% preference policy when applying to do business in the city. We provide many networking opportunities to our members helping their business to grow. Most importantly, our Chamber was successful in re-launching our Small Business Council that continues to work directly on small business related issues and seeks ways to enhance their positive impact on the local economy. Small businesses have always been the backbone of the local economy and our membership reflects this sentiment.
A successful Chamber has to have the support of the largest companies in the city. In many ways our large company members help subsidize our efforts to support small businesses by to keep their annual dues at the lowest level possible, offering programming to support their businesses, and ensuring they had access to many of the Chamber’s signature events that allowed for all those quality networking moments. Speaking of our signature events, many of our large companies are wonderful corporate citizens giving much of their time, talent, and treasure to our organization. This included many, many sponsorships for the Chamber’s big special events where we honored and highlighted many of our members, partners, and nonprofits over the years. Without their continued financial support, we would not be in the special event business. Our corporate support also allowed us to have some unbelievable leaders to serve on our various committees and board of directors. I owe so much of my success to many corporate companies.
I’m very proud of our efforts to represent our members at the local, county, state, and federal levels of government. It’s such an important responsibility for us and we take it very seriously. Some people over the years would criticize us for our involvement in advocacy and politics. However, I’ve always felt this was our responsibility as the other side always lobbied to have their message heard. The data in the chamber of commerce industry bears this out…members want their chamber involved in advocacy through representing the interests of business with government. If we did not do this on behalf of our members and the business community, who will? I’ve always said if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu! One of the benefits of chamber membership is that we serve as a six-figure lobbyist you can afford because it comes with the price of dues. This is the key member benefit that members get to take advantage of because it’s what we do best!