The Chamber as a Catalyst
June 27, 2017
The Chamber as a Catalyst
Last week, I shared the findings of Brand Research study for the Chambers of Commerce west of the Mississippi. The information indicated plainly the big things business owners need from their chambers are to be a catalyst for business growth, a convener for leaders and influencers and a champion for a stronger community. Each week I’ll take the challenge and talk about what we’ve done and we are doing in each of the three C-words.
Cat-a-lyst, n. An agent initiating change, from Webster New Dictionary 1986
Do you believe “Change” is needed in our world, nation, state, Lodi community? Do you think the chamber should be involved in creating positive change for the business community? More to the point is the Lodi Chamber a Catalyst for business growth? I’m sure would answer YES to the first two questions. But to the third question, your answer might be “I’m not sure I know.”
We are guilty of not keeping you informed like we should, that is changing with new staff talents and skills. There are several main areas to business growth; the Chamber MUST be actively working in all of them. These are 1) Creating a local business friendly environment. 2) Helping elect council men & women who understand the need for jobs and who are business friendly. 3) Educating the electorate to the business issues facing the community and how they impact their quality of life.
Taking them out of turn…
2) Electing Business Friendly Candidates Since we began endorsing candidates in 2006 we’ve kept a 3 over 2 or 4 over 1 business friendly majority at city council. We are less effective at the Board of Supervisors but this last election we helped win a 3 over 2 (sometimes 4) business friendly orientation with wins by Tom Patti and Manuel Villapadua, we endorsed in 2012 and 2014 Jim Cooper, who has been a steady business moderate in the Assembly as well as Galgiani in the Senate. We’ve not been able to support Jerry McNerney once do to his voting record which is in lockstep with Ms. Pelosi, no need to say more.
1) Creating a business Friendly Environment 2006- When a City Council member called for a moratorium on all commercial & residential construction until the General Plan was finished. The Chamber board saw the need to form a PAC (Political Action Committee). For the reader it’s not uncommon for city General Plans to take 3-4 years. How many construction and supporting jobs would we have lost over those 3 years? The Chamber was very visible and credited in defeating that idea before it gained support. Since the 2006 election the city with the chamber’s endorsed candidates has maintained 3 or 4 business friendly council members 2007- 2011Chamber authored the 43- Page White paper “A Blueprint for the Future” It was written with input from 22 business men and women from a cross-section and variety of businesses in the chamber membership. They formed the General Plan Task Force which produced many ideas for the city’s plan. The plan was finished in 2010 with a great deal of input which overcame the no-growth mentality of a vocal faction in the community. During these years hard battles were waged and chamber support was constant, highly visible and vocal. As a result developments of Reynolds Ranch and Lodi Shopping Center are today a reality. These two developments alone will have saved and created over 2,000 jobs for Lodi.
2012-2020 The Chamber Board of Directors began discussing the long-term horizon for Lodi’s economic sustainability and saw great and daunting economic challenges. At the same time there are many opportunities in the same areas of business and community engagement. The Chamber purchased over 60 copies of a book written by the CEO of the Gallop Corporation titled 'The Coming Jobs War'. The book was given to business and community leaders to acquaint them undeniable challenges coming to every city in the nation including Lodi. The Chamber is convinced many cities in California will fail irrespective of their unfunded public pension liability. But even harder to fix is the lack of a semi-skilled workforce to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby-boomers. Failure of the state’s education system, business crippling over-regulation in every industry and other mega-factors make California a very challenging playing field. The federal government and state government will not come to our rescue; therefore it is up to us. Every community must figure out a product to put on the world stage and create enough primary jobs to generate economic stability.
The board’s answer was to identify the challenges and opportunities. They did so in an Economic Visioning Report published late in 2014 called 'Vision 2020'. It identifies 5 areas of great economic challenge to overcome and great opportunity to work towards. Great progress has been made but much work is yet to do. This document has mobilized more people working in teams to successfully move Lodi forward than any other initiative in the last twenty years if not longer. This work has received numerous awards from several different organizations both inside and outside California. Vision 2020 is on-going and having continued success today.
2017- Lodi’s own economic competitiveness is a great challenge for future prosperity. The city really cannot cut expenditures from the budget any longer. Growth in Lodi over the last 25-plus years has averaged less than one-half of one percent. Public pension liability is predicted to go up perhaps one million dollars per year in coming years forcing the city into bankruptcy between 2024 and 2027 according to city predictions. Twenty percent of Lodians live below the poverty line, as high as 49% in some neighborhoods. Median house hold income is well-below the state average and dropping compared to other cities near us including Galt and Stockton.
It is difficult to turn around 25 years of this slow economic decline, but this is where the chamber is at work today, and yesterday. The Chamber is credited in helping to keep the then 600 Blue Shield jobs in Lodi and not going to Stockton. Obviously great work was done new by Reynolds Ranch Partners the developers of Reynolds Ranch. When the city of Lodi had nothing going on for economic development this group was acting (free to taxpayers) as the Lodi economic development group. When they landed the big fish to the city’s credit they helped get Blue Shield and Costco up and going in good stead.
City of Stockton and Lodi were in a tug of war for the 600 jobs of Blue Shield in 2007. Fortunately the pro-business votes were 3 to 2 with two city council people voting against 600 jobs then over 1,000 today! One of the things credited in getting Blue Shields attention that indeed they were valued in Lodi was a Full-Page ad by the Chamber that said the business community and Lodi Chamber loved Blue Shield and very much wanted and NEEDED them to stay. It was reported that the full page ad was pinned to bulletin boards and in many cubicles occupied by 600 employees that DID NOT want to work in Stockton.
With Blue Shield in Reynolds Ranch, that enabled Costco then Home Depot and others now coming into the development with the improving economy. Good jog Reynolds Ranch Partners I know it has been a long haul. Ironically the 2 votes against keeping Blue Shield in Lodi were there at the Ribbon-Cutting.
Today we are attempting to work on a plan with the city to develop a joint website to attract Bay Area businesses and a plan to spur job expansion in existing businesses. The city certainly has a great need to increase revenue because cost cutting has now reached rock bottom in many if not all departments. Let’s hope city leaders choose working to grow the economy not simply raise taxes. Vision 2020 called for a dedicated city employee to work with the businesses of Lodi. That position was created after many years and 2 city managers’ and weak council efforts to see revenue enhancing to balance off the expense side of the employee cost ledger. Thanks to the current council and City Manager Schawbauer, now let’s the ED Director some tools to work with.
Is the Chamber a catalyst? Yes we’ve been there in crucial times to support or even lead the charge for economic expansion and job creation and business growth and will continue to do so. Case in point we supported the sale of Quashnick Tools to Cepheid of Silicon Valley. In four years they’ve gone from a small facility with 40 employees to an 81,000 square foot production facility with 80 plus robots and over 250 employees. They’ve purchased the “OLD” Blue Shield offices that had set empty for 8 years and additional 71,000 sq., feet that will bring the employee count to over 500 in two years or so.
That story is great but we need more new jobs at a higher wage level to bump the needle in a way 6hat will help the community’s economic sustainability for more citizens and city employees.
3) Educating the Electorate We have and will continue to step up communication efforts to educate the electorate that we are indeed now a poor community headed for direr days if we do not get on the job development stick and quick. Newspaper editorials have been written on the subjects explained in this blog. Examples have been support of candidates endorsed or why we did not endorse others.
A regular topic from many different directions has been the great need for economic expansion through business growth and job creation. Much written on this topic has come through the goals and successes of Vision 2020. It’s social improvement of the Heritage District to the creation of The Lodi Jobs Academy where students are prepared for middle-skilled jobs providing a family-supporting wage. We will continue to do these with more regularity.
We will work to create new coalitions in coming months with the broader community bringing them into the effort to achieve the lofty goals of Vision 2020. Also we will develop universal messaging through various social media platforms to expand awareness of Vision 2020’s goals and benefits in attempt to reaching more citizens to educate and enlist support. Jobs are all import in today’s world. If you have one you need to keep it at all costs. If you don’t have one you need to know how to do something and preferably better than others. In the world tomorrow automation and artificial intelligence is and will everyday replace more and more minimum wage worker. Everyone needs more skills and more education to stay working.
President & CEO
Lodi District Chamber of Commerce