The State of the Chamber – 2017
It is year-end for 2017 and I want to reflect on the number of years that I have been the President and CEO of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce. When I became the President in 2011, I realized we would be celebrating our 100-year anniversary in 2012. We moved our annual dinner to the Gallo Center for the Arts and turned the event to a Gala celebration. We took note that the Modesto Chamber had built the iconic Modesto Arch with the slogan “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” the same year we incorporated in 1912. We undertook the task and financial responsibility of repairing and restoring the Arch with new lighting and powder coating, bringing back the structure to its original color, complete with new flag poles and monument telling the story of the Arch.
We are dedicated to our mission statement: “The Modesto Chamber is dedicated to serving the greater Modesto area regional businesses and community prosperity through advocacy, collaboration, access to leaders, economic development, connectivity and business education.”
To execute our adopted mission, we developed an acronym. The acronym is C.A.R.E.S.: Community, Advocacy, Relationships, Education, and Service.
With this in mind, we have restated the purpose of the Modesto Chamber. That renewed purpose helps create an environment that is conducive for business to succeed. For our community to prosper, we collectively must partner with others, including government, to advocate and collaborate, while maintaining access to elected officials to expand economic growth.
Many of our Board Members and Staff serve on other boards that include the following: Craig Lewis, Stanislaus Community Foundation; Steve Madison, Salvation Army; Dave Gianelli and I, Stanislaus Boys and Girls Club; Steve Rank, Downtown Improvement District; Eric Tobias, Community Hospice; Dave Gianelli, Downtown Modesto Partnership; Cecil Russel, Stanislaus Partners in Education and Opportunity Stanislaus.
The crossover of these organizations are very helpful in determining when and where we can create synergy while working on common goals for the vitality of our community. Dave Gianelli brought the Boys and Girls Club to Modesto, and I have had the pleasure of serving with that organization to help finance the start of the club. Today it serves over 1,000 kids with the assistance of the Sylvan School District
The Chamber’s Economic Development Committee and Government Relations Council meets with City, County and other Agencies on a regular basis to learn and provide input on policy, rules, and regulations that affect business and economic development growth. The Economic Development Committee, under the leadership of Craig Lewis, developed the Chamber’s “Pathway to Prosperity” strategy, which became a blueprint for Modesto to update its Comprehensive General Plan (includes direction on land use and transportation). The positive outcome from this advocacy moved the City of Modesto to create a new Comprehension General Plan.
Last year we collaborated with the the local cities and the County, StanCOG, Farm Bureau, Police Organization, and many other groups, to pass a self-help transportation measure that will raise the necessary funds to improve our transportation infrastructure throughout the County. Craig Lewis has been the driving force for the Chamber for many years to help educate the voters of the need and economic impact in our region this transportation measure with have for decades. Paul Van Konynenburg was the chairman of the Committee that unified these entities to come together to pass this measure. Since the election, he has been selected by the Governor to serve on the California Transportation Commission. He is only the second individual from the Central Valley to serve on this Commission, with the Chamber advocating and obtaining written letters in support of his appointment. Going forward, we will continue to advocate and encourage the ACE Train to be expanded to Modesto.
As the “Voice of Business” in the business community, the Chamber has supported “business-friendly” candidates for Modesto City Council, and Mayor, Stanislaus Board of Supervisors, State Senate, State Assembly, and other local races, whom we believe will encourage businesses to locate and thrive in Modesto. We proactively work to relieve the regulatory burdens businesses endure due to local and State Agencies. We led the charge to defeat an anti-growth measure, that if passed, would have stemmed economic growth and jobs for Modesto. When our new Mayor was elected, he formed a 100-day committee to study the effectiveness and efficiency of City government, and look for ways to cut costs. The Chamber had three board members that served on his committee; one result of this committee was to identify funding to allow for the City to hire 22 additional, much-needed police officers.
Your Chamber also formed a Public Safety Committee headed by former Mayor Jim Ridenour to search for answers in sustainable financing for public safety services. After the city was unable over two campaign cycles to convince voters to tax themselves for more city funding, the Chamber empaneled a committee to address the issues. In collaboration with city officials, elected officials, and the 100 Day Review Committee, the committee made observations andrecommendations to the city on how to streamline services, improve collaboration and delivery of services and additional opportunities for revenue enhancements.
We have developed a strong relationship with MID and TID, working to support the relicensing of Don Pedro Dam to secure our steady and reliable source of water. We have joined MID, TID, and our local legislators in Sacramento, in the fight to maintain our water rights and to help stop the state water agency from grabbing our water—water that is not only the lifeblood for our agricultural businesses but for all of the other businesses and households in our community. Assembly member Adam Gray has been a strong advocate for our water rights. We have also supported candidates that have run for board seats on MID that will support local business and all other ratepayers on a fair and reasonable for price electricity.
Our focus is to advocate and support current and future businesses that will create more jobs and economic growth for all. A good example is the growth of our health industry, now a major part of our growing economy. With Kaiser Permanente, Doctors Medical Center, and Memorial Medical Center, we have some of the best medical care in Northern California. Doctors Medical Center has expanded into Valley Heart Institute and Darroch Brain &
Along with Care One Home Health/ Hospice, Central Valley Medical Group, Central Valley Specialty Hospital, English Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Hospital, First Choice Physician Partners, Stanislaus Surgical Hospital, and many others, we have worked and partnered with new businesses that have located in Modesto. Last year, we welcomed HealthSouth Rehabilitation to Modesto with their new multi-million-dollar facility. We also supported the Koelsch family to build the El Rio Memory Care Community and The Park at Modesto Independent Senior Living Community. These two facilities are also multi-million-dollar investments, bringing with them state of the art care and hundreds of new jobs. We emceed the groundbreaking of Valley Children Specialty Care Center on Pelandale, another multi-million-dollar facility that will provide exceptional care for our children. The health care industry and these investments in Modesto bring with them hundreds of new jobs and have developed vacant land within the city limits using smart land use principles.
We have worked with the leaders of Stanislaus County Courts to bring a new modern courthouse to Modesto. Although it was finally approved, funding has been tied up in the bureaucracy of Sacramento. This has been a long hard fight that we will continue, as this new courthouse will bolster our local justice system and be a cornerstone for downtown economic development.
These are just some of the many things we do on a regular basis to advocate for vital economic growth and business development in our region.
Over thirty years ago, former Chamber President Dave Kilby started a program called Leadership Modesto. That program has trained approximately 25 business and community leaders each year (over 700 local leaders overall). This continues today with each class collectively choosing and funding a project to enhance our City. This last year the class funded the musical crosswalks that help frame the intersections around the Gallo Center for the Arts. Our Leadership Modesto program has built long-term relationships with key leaders in the business world and local community.
The Modesto Chamber specializes in building relationships among business and serving the nexus to businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies We host monthly networking events, “Business Before Hours” and “Business After Hours” that usually have 50 to 100 business people attending. We host other events such as State of the City and State of the Region, and President Club receptions that are great networking opportunities.
We believe that to have a healthy and balanced economy that creates jobs, we must have an educated work force. This requires our involvement, investment, and connection to our educational institutions. The Chamber serves the education community by hosting the annual State of Business and Education event. We have developed relationships with Sylvan Union School District, Modesto City Schools, Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto Junior College, and California State University, Stanislaus, by serving on many panels, committees and advisory groups.
We also have served on Stanislaus Partners in Education (SPIE) for the last 25 years. Our Harvest Lunch and Ag Aware Committees have been celebrating our heritage and connection to agriculture for over 50 years, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for local students: Modesto FFA scholarships and Modesto Junior College graduating Ag Department students scholarships. We are very proud of the hard work and dedication of these committees. All of this is in keeping with our pledge to help provide a ready workforce to serve local employers and keep our next generation situated and working here.
We also serve on the Stanislaus County Workforce Development Board. We invest time and effort in these endeavors because we believe that education is fundamental to economic success.
We have an ongoing connectivity with SCORE that provides free counseling to startup and existing businesses that need professional guidance or mentoring. The Chamber Board and staff are active on many nonprofit and government committees, donating their business expertise, time, energy, and resources. The Chamber also serves its individual members by hosting ribbon cuttings and grand openings which introduce new businesses to the community. We offer both free and cost-effective marketing opportunities, exposure to social media, workshops and training from our business partners and their associates. This last year, we had “Chamber University” classes taught on a variety of topics by members from Cloudy in California, the Littler labor law firm, and AgSafe. Dale Carnegie also conducts courses in our conference room. The prime event for training this year was hosting Disney Institute’s Approach to Business Excellence professional training at Stanislaus State. We received so much positive feedback that we will be hosting another course module next Autumn as well.
When contemplating the Chamber’s involvement in one of these areas of C.A.R.E.S., I often ask myself, if not the Chamber then who? This drives us towards our goal to continue to develop economic vitality to help our businesses prosper and create a better quality of life for all. It has been our pleasure to serve you for the last 105 years, and we aim to keep serving this community in the same vein.