Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Signing Off" at The Chico Chamber of Commerce

It's been a teary week around here. Usually that's because Alice Patterson has us all laughing so hard, but this week I'm a little weepy over my impending departure on Friday.

I'm very excited about my new adventure at the Enloe Foundation. I look forward to the challenge of 'telling the story' of the Medical Center, why it's economic impact is important to the community, why it's critical that we all do our part to keep our community hospital as well equipped as possible, and why we should all be tremendously proud that we live in a community with top-notch care provided through a locally controlled, patient-centered mission.

I'll admit to being a little sad leaving a job that I have such passion for. We've come a very long way in the last three years. From severe financial stress to comfortable financial health. From inwardly focused political maneuvering to outwardly focused member-centric mission. It's been a lot of work but a really fantastic, fun time. I will miss it.

I'll miss most of all the day-to-day dealings with absolutely the most dynamic, creative and dedicated business leaders in California. Many of them are Chamber members, some are not. But by-and-large each one of them is a pillar that this community builds its economic foundation on and we should be grateful for their work. Thank you.

I'll also miss the fun and fabulous group of ladies that make up our small staff. Each of them brings talent, insight and intelligence to their position and they have a lot of fun doing it!

I think it's best to move on from a position when you remain at the top end of your game. I certainly don't want to pull a Brett Favre and end up hanging on to the old glory even as the crowd yells "Just retire already, for cryin-out-loud"! So I'll feel good about leaving the organization in good health, in good hands and traveling down the right path with a good head of steam.

As I prepare to leave my position as the leader of the Chamber, I'm content to hand over my bullhorn and my soapbox to Katie Simmons who will do a superb job of continuing the Chamber mission of being The Voice of Business. I know she's up for the challenge. While she keeps things moving ahead the Board will explore the potential benefits of unifying the Chamber with our long-term collaborative partner CEPCO. I am anxious to see the end result of this dialog.

Whomever ends up sitting in the CEO chair for the next few years, the next few decades and into the next century, one thing will remain unchanged. An organization like the Chamber, made up of local business people who dedicate their time, creativity and energy to building a strong economy together will always wield great power. MEMBERS are the power within this organization.

One last message before I sign-off because I just can't say this enough...SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MAKES EVERYTHING ELSE POSSIBLE! Thank you for working so hard to make our community a great place to live, work and play. It's been my sincere privilege to work with you all!

Monday, September 12, 2011 works!

Some good news out of Sacramento on Friday. AB 350 (Solorio) failed to make it off the Senate Floor. Senator Doug LaMalfa was among those who helped stop this bill. I'm pretty happy about that. This was one of those head-scratching pieces of legislation that makes you wonder who thinks this junk up. Score 1 for Business!

However, AB 22 did pass the Senate and is currently awaiting action on the Governor's desk. We're advocating for a veto. This is the bill that would prevent employers from using a job applicants credit report as part of the hiring evaluation process. That's dangerous for the employer if they are hiring someone who might have access to their assets, and dangerous for consumers if the employee has access to confidential customer information. We'll keep you posted on the outcome, but encourage you to write a letter of your own to Governor Jerry Brown and ask him to use hist Veto stamp, pronto!

Keep watching in the coming months, we'll be posting the voting records for this legislative session and you can judge for yourself who's doing a good job protecting jobs and job creators in California.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What the...

Sitting in my office reading through summaries of bills making their way through the California legislature, I'm suddenly feeling like I'm about to channel my grandmother. Many a time in my youth, when we kids would pull a stunt that was stupid, or dangerous or both, Nana would lean out over the porch and holler "What in the Hell do you think you're doing out there?" That'll get your attention by golly!

Today, I want to holler that towards Sacramento. If only they were listening!

There remain (too) many job killer bills that continue working their way through committees in Sacramento that are stupid, or dangerous, or both. Instead of spending their time concentrating on creating private-sector jobs to help fix this lousy economy, they are writing nonsense bills that do nothing to spur job growth.

Take for instance AB 889 (Ammiano; D-San Francisco). If passed, this bill will require anyone hiring a domestic worker—including babysitters, yard maintenance crews and nannies—to provide a duty-free, 30-minute meal period at or before five hours of work and a 10-minute uninterrupted rest period at or before four hours of work.

Forgetting for a minute that the bill expands mandates to private homeowners that sophisticated businesses with professional human resources staff already struggle with, this bill does NOTHING to promote hiring in California. In fact, I can't imagine how you'd even enforce this. I don't know about you, but I'm not even home when my yard care crew shows up, so I've got absolutely no idea when they take a lunch break, let alone a rest period. If I was hiring a nanny, am I supposed to hire another nanny to watch the kid while the first nanny takes a meal period? Honestly?

While this bill is stalled for the remainder of this year, you can bet it will be back next year, and we'll be on the watch for it. This one falls squarely into the category of stupid.

Here are a few that cross over into dangerous from a job-creation point of view. We're continuing to follow, and strongly oppose, AB 22 (Mendoza; D-Artesia) that will limit an employers ability to use a consumer credit report when evaluating job applicants. We also strongly oppose AB 375 (Skinner; D-Berkely) that will increase Worker's Compensation costs for private and public hospitals by expanding injury presumptions.

AB 350 (Solario; D-Anaheim) requires subsequent contractors performing property services (cleaning, maintenance, cafeteria, etc) to hire the employees of the previous contractor when taking over a new property. This bill is headed to the Senate Floor, and we continue to oppose it. You should, too. This bill puts State government squarely into the realm of mandating who private business must hire.

The State legislature has clearly taken their eye off the ball when it comes to turning this economy around. While the private sector struggles to find ways to survive this economy, they continue to build roadblocks in the form of nonsensical regulations. It's time to STOP!

Here's an idea for any legislator considering writing a new bill, or supporting most of what's currently on the table. If it doesn't make it easier to create jobs in the private sector, JUST SAY NO. Stop wasting your time and our money. Get back to work on what matters, and what matters to everyone right now are jobs, plain and simple.

So, because it appears you folks in Sacramento haven't been listening lately, let us put it into grandmother terms for ya.

All together now...."What in the Hell do you think you're doing out there?"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Blonde Days of Summer

Some days I'm wise to just let it all go and embrace my 'Inner Blondeness'. Now before anybody flies off the handle and calls me a hair-racist, let me explain.

For me, embracing my Blondeness has nothing whatsoever to do with hair color or even (gasp) intelligence. It's all about adopting a level of calm focus vs. my normal, frantic, control-freak overload. When I decide to have a Blonde day, I stop spending time worrying about things I cannot control (politics, the crazy ride on the stock market, teenage daughters on road trips) and focus all my energy on activities that can move my business plan forward and make my home life (read: husband) happier.

On Blonde days, I'm a lot more productive because I do just let it all go, take the pressure off of myself to fix every-single-little-thing that isn't perfect and just do what needs doing. I encourage everyone to try it sometime. Clearly this frame of mind has nothing at all to do with hair color, it's just that...a frame of mind. I could just as easily call it a Focus day, a Production day or a Flat-Heeled Shoe day. Whatever works.

What always puts me in the proper mood for one of these days is recalling a bit of history from Great Britain during the early days of WWII. The British Ministry of Information created a series of public messages intended to build morale and quiet the fears of British citizens facing the real possibility of enemy invasion. It was a terrifying, unprecedented time and the future was uncertain.

You could actually draw some parallels between what those folks were feeling and how many American business leaders feel in today's turbulent times. Certainly we don't have to worry about actual bombs dropping on our heads, but the metaphorical bombs from an unstable economy, high unemployment and low consumer confidence can be truly scary, too.

So what was the message that kept the British going in those dark days? It was simple, it was straightforward and it remains as strong and positive today as it was then.

"Keep Calm and Carry On". That's it..."Keep Calm and Carry On".

I'd be willing to bet that the businesses that have survived and thrived over the last 50 years or more have adopted this strategy in one way or the other. Somehow through the ups-and-downs of past economies, natural and man-made disasters, world conflicts and personal tragedies, these business leaders decided to keep calm and carry on.

If it worked for them, it can work for me, and for you.

In the coming weeks I plan to reach out to several of the successful companies that have survived and thrived locally for 50 years or more. I want to discover those strategic gems that carried them through tough times, the unforeseen landmines that forced them to step back, and ultimately the inner passion that keeps them moving forward in the face of adversity. In other words, how do they keep calm and carry on?

I plan to start with Fanno Saw Works, a family owned business spanning four generations that will be celebrating 90 years of success in Chico this year. 90 YEARS! I'm excited to hear their story and to share it with you. So keep checking back...

and in the meantime...embrace your own inner Blondeness while you Keep Calm and Carry On.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's in a Legacy?

How much time do we waste worrying about our personal legacy? Likely too much. If we are making life decisions based on what other people will think about us 50 years from now, we are likely missing opportunities to do something great. It seems to me that if we just do the right thing, day-in-and-day-out the whole legacy thing will take care of itself. Trying too hard to steer it can take you pretty far off the right road.

That's not to say that legacy's aren't important. They are from the standpoint that they set an example for others to follow. Mother Teresa's legacy will bring positive change in the lives of millions of people she's never met over the course of human history. Lindsay Lohan's...not so much.

So if you're doing the right thing personally and professionally, your legacy will take care of itself.

It struck me like a baseball bat upside my thick skull last week, the Chamber of Commerce enjoys a partnership with many local businesses that spans DECADES! Let's call them "Legacy Members". I am absolutely humbled by the hundred businesses that have partnered with the Chamber of Commerce longer than 20 years, scores that have been with us for over 30 years, nearly a dozen that have belonged for over 50 years, and more than a handful that have been partnered with the Chamber for over 70 years! SEVENTY YEARS!

The Office of the President of CSU-Chico has been a registered member of the Chamber of Commerce for over 80 years.

The length of time these businesses have partnered with the Chamber is, in itself, not a legacy. The legacy is present in the decades of success these organizations enjoyed. The owners of Northern Star Mills, Shubert's Ice Cream, JC Penney and Peters, Rush, Habib & McKenna, along with many others, have been serving this community for over 70 years and all of that time they have partnered with the Chamber. Why?

I honestly don't believe its because they love Thursday Night Mixers and Ribbon Cuttings, although those are certainly fun and entertaining. I think its because they see the value in the important advocacy work of the Chamber of Commerce. I'd also bet my last 5 cents that they do it because they want to support the rest of the business community. Perhaps, simply put, they know its the right thing to do.

So think about it. Successful longevity in business and a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. Coincidence? I think not...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Too Much Noise

Haven't blogged in a while. It's not that I don't have a lot to say and those of you that know me know that's oh-so-true. I guess I've just been busy with 'stuff'. We celebrated the 50th Anniversary of R.W. Knudsen Family in June. It was a great event, and we're already looking forward to celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Madison Bear Garden next June. That'll be AWESOME!

The Chamber Education Committee has created a plan to showcase businesses at the City Council Meetings once a month. We've been working with Mayor Schwab to get that organized and calendared. I feel good about the prospect of highlighting the significant contribution these businesses make in our economic landscape. You know what I always say...'Everything you see is the result of a successful business'.

The Education Committee also continues to plan for a Fall business symposium with a panel of experts on capital access, human resources, marketing, legal issues and sustainability. Chamber business leaders will have an opportunity to ask questions as well as brainstorm with other business leaders on the great ideas that have helped them survive these turbulent times. Watch for details of this October 13 event.

A few weeks ago the Chamber Board of Directors presented the City Council Economic Development sub-committee with a list of 10 ideas to help stimulate some economic development locally. The list is available on our website if you're interested in seeing it. The sub-committee directed staff to review the list and reach out to various organizations to discern those ideas that can be implemented effectively. Some are as simple as placing signage on I-5 and Hwy. 70 to urge folks to pull-over for a stop in Chico (and hopefully spend some money). Another more complex idea is to work on a plan to create a community center/sports facility/convention venue in Chico. These ideas will take a lot of cooperative work, but hey, we've got to start somewhere!

Of course, we continue to track the various and sundry bills working their way through the legislature. seems to me that considering the bloody mess we're in with regard to our State budget, the legislature would be working on fixing that problem and creating more jobs for the hundreds of thousands Californians that have been out of work for more than 12 months, but noooooo...they're writing bills instead. Some of them are just nutty and will do nothing but make it tougher for California businesses to grow. The Chamber has and will continue to fight these job-killer bills on behalf of our members. We do it so you don't have to.

The Rotary Club I belong to participated in an interesting exercise with about 150 members at lunch today. It drove home the point about the importance of organizations like Rotary as well as the Chamber of Commerce. It went something like this...

The speaker asked us all to shout out our first and last names. On the count of three we shouted. It was just a bunch of noise. We were then instructed to shout out "The Rotary Foundation". On the count of three, a unified chorus rattled the building with a clear and discernible message. It was clear what we said and even clearer that we meant it!

The Chamber of Commerce is that clear and discernible voice for business. Without the unity of one loud voice, legislators can tune us out as just too much noise. We can't let that happen. Even though we might not be in the same room at the same time shouting on the count of three, The Chamber of Commerce IS the unified voice of business and when we speak people are listening. It's clear what we're saying and it's clear that we mean it.

Time to ask yourself...who's speaking for YOUR business?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Job Creation Do's and Don'ts, Part Deux

In my last post I relayed my thoughts on the CA legislatures efforts to eliminate an important tool used by many employers (consumer credit report information) in hiring competent employees while protecting their assets and the personal information of their customers. There is another piece of legislation moving its way through the legislature that, if passed, will significantly increase the cost of doing business in CA at the worst possible time.

AB 10 (Alejo), proposes to increase the CA minimum wage by fifty-cents to $8.50/hour in January 2012, and then automatically index annual increases based on the inflation rate. A minimum wage increase to $8.50 an hour would make California's minimum wage the second highest in the nation.

There are several reasons to oppose this increased burden on employers. First, as many businesses struggle to simply survive in the midst of a serious recession, increasing their employee costs will not help to spur job growth, and let's face it, job growth is the only real way to dig out of this economic hole.

Now before anyone gets started on the "you're just protecting greedy business owners" bandwagon, let me remind you that the vast majority of employers in this country are small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Those business owners are not getting rich in this economy. Most of them are struggling to survive, struggling to pay their bills and taxes, and struggling to meet payroll every two weeks so they don't have to lay anybody (else) off. Raising the minimum wage will not help them do that.

It's important to remember that an increase in minimum wage does not only increase the cost of hourly employees' wages, but salaried employees' compensation as well. In order for employees to qualify as 'exempt' under any of the six exemptions in CA labor laws, they must meet a salary based test. In other words, they must earn at least two-times the minimum wage. If AB 10 is implemented, annual salaries for exempt employees would increase from a minimum of $33,280 to $35,360, and continue to increase each year based on the inflation index.

Second, it seems to me that automatically increasing employee costs annually based on inflation will not only crush job creation, but will have a spiraling effect on the economy. Increased costs will necessarily need to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices...increasing inflation...increasing employee costs...increasing prices...increasing inflation...increasing employee costs... You get the idea.

Interesting point...this automatic adjustment moves only one-way, UP! There is no provision in the law for decreasing minimum wage during times of deflation. In other words it locks-in the higher wages when prices (and presumably profits) decline. That's simply bad economic policy.

We must always keep in mind what sets CA apart from the rest of the country when we talk about job creation, the good, the bad and the ugly. We have a talented workforce, nearly perfect weather and a lovely quality of life. Good.

CA is also one of the most challenging places to do business. Higher taxes, highly restrictive regulations and a nearly bankrupt state government. Bad.

We already know its expensive to do business in CA. Continuing to increase the cost of keeping people working doesn't make any sense in a deep recession. Nor will it help us stem the tide of employers leaving the state or encourage others to come. Worse yet, it will likely stop those that are already here from creating new job opportunities. That's just ugly.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Job Creation Do's and Don'ts

Oh my I have forsaken thee. Far too many months since I've written, not that I've been slackin' off you understand. There has been a lot of activity lately, some good and some not so good.

Good news...Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Aaron Rodger's hails from Chico. Now you KNOW that's got to be good for tourism. (No parade though. You asked for it and we tried our best but it isn't going to happen. Please stop asking...)

Not-so-good news...the State of California remains (seemingly) hopelessly deadlocked on budget negotiations. Too much finger-pointing and not enough compromise(things we all should have learned in grade school) are glaringly absent from the process. That's bad for everyone.

But even with the deadlock on the budget the legislature still seems hell-bent on writing bills that are truly bad for job creation and employers. Two you should know about are AB 10 and AB 22. The Chamber of Commerce is following these closely and lobbying our lawmakers to oppose them both.

AB 22 (Mendoza) negatively affects private employers by restricting their ability to utilize consumer credit reports when making employment decisions.

Employers utilize employee credit reports to assist in the overall evaluation of an applicant, just like they use college degree requirements, past employment references, etc. All these factors together provide objective information regarding an individuals past behavior or character as an indicator of their likely future behavior.

Employees in many industries (think in-home care, senior care facilities, hospitals, car retailers) have access to not only the employer's assets and financial information, but also the assets and financial information of customers. All of us should want employers to have access to all the data they need to help them make the best hiring decision possible. AB 22 needs to be killed.

Next post we'll report on AB 10 (Alejo), another job-killer bill that we're following. But now...back to work!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a tough job...and I'm glad he's doing it!

Dave Burkland, City Manager for the City of Chico is one of my new hero's. He's a soft-hearted guy with a spine of steel. Just what we need in these wacky economic times.

It's been a tough-row-to-hoe running City government the last few years. Declining revenues that seem to continue a downward spiral, State 'government' (which continues to seem like an oxymoron) raiding our funds and so far very little upturn in the forecast to hang your hat on. Imagine managing this beast is your job...this is the stuff of sleepless nights.

When faced with a nasty situation like this there is very little left to do except cut personnel expense. I know from experience that this is the most difficult business of business. Nobody wants to look an employee in the eye and tell them they are going to make less money at their job next year, or worse, they have no job at all. Employees and colleagues are like family and delivering this type of news truly hurts your heart.

Luckily most of us don't have to face the additional challenge of dealing with labor negotiators (union representatives). Dave Burkland does.

When the true budget shortfall became apparent Dave made the tough decision to fix it with a 5% cut across-the-board and he has had the support of City Council members the entire time.

The process so far probably seems pretty painless to the average Joe Citizen on the outside looking in. Most of the unions have agreed, one hasn't and one is still deciding. But it ain't over 'til its over so we should all be paying attention.

Now don't get me wrong, I love all my City services too, especially Police and Fire. I truly wish there was no limit to the funding available to pay the folks who protect us, the added benefit of course being that would mean that everybody else was doing well, too. Because the simple truth is all that money comes from taxes paid by private businesses who hire people who also pay taxes, who then spend more money that gets taxed again and so on and so forth. You get the idea.

And in case you haven't noticed, private business ain't doing so great. Sure there are some bright spots but the majority continue to limp along, paying less taxes on lower revenue and hiring fewer people to pay more tax on their earnings. Get it?

What isn't being said often enough is that this is a long-term shift in our economy and the sooner organized labor representatives accept that the better off we will all be. There simply isn't enough money anymore and working less (i.e. furloughs) is a short-term bandage on a long-term problem. Let's be honest...when times are tough, working less is never a good idea.

The point of this post isn't to bad-mouth labor or point the finger at anybody embroiled in this mess. It really is meant to give credit to a guy who's doing his damnedest to make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

Throughout this challenging, emotional process Dave has maintained his sense of compassion, his dedication to the citizens of Chico and his humility. And he's never taken his eye off the necessary final outcome. He shoulders this significant burden with class. I'm glad he's steering this boat and I think we're lucky to have him.

Nicely done Dave...nicely done indeed.