Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." ~ Will Rogers

I'm so incredibly encouraged by the outpouring of support we've received from the business community, local agencies, fellow service organizations, and the public to TAKE ACTION on the 4 issues identified at the Chamber's 2012 Business Summit that I have to share our progress.

As you know, attendees at the Summit, held on January 31st, spoke out on the issues affecting business in 2012. Here are the top 4 issues identified by over 130 people:

1. Burdensome regulations
2. Financing options for business growth
3. Employment challenges: qualified workforce
4. Transparency in the permitting process

I'm thrilled to report that we've made progress on ALL FOUR issues!

We're pursuing meetings with the City to discuss transparency in permitting and to gain insight into the regulatory issues that are under local control. All of our inquiries have been met with receptivity and, as we move forward with our meetings, we will find ways to partner with the City to problem-solve around these issues. We will cast a wider net once we've bench-marked our plans to re-engage the business community and will be calling on YOU to participate in this ongoing dialogue.

To address the need for delivering more content and education around financing options and availability for small business growth, we've reached out to experts in the field to speak at our upcoming Spring Business Symposium, slated for April 26th in the Big Room at Sierra Nevada. If you attended our Fall Business Symposium, you know to expect expert advice and guidance on these issues -- and financing, a hot topic, will get the royal treatment. Believe me, we’ve heard you and we're going to deliver.

Alliance for Workforce Development, a strong partner, has expressed interest in working with us to deliver a workshop on solving problems around employment challenges. Once we confirm the workshop date and time, targeted for May, we'll be asking you to tell us: What are your employment needs? What are the barriers you face? And what does "qualified" mean to you? We'll give your answers directly to the team of experts leading this workshop and you will walk away with ideas, solutions, resources, tools, and contacts to help you move forward with this challenge in 2012.

Access to broadband and the internet didn't make it to the very top of the list but, having landed at #5, we still take it seriously. Look for progress on these issues, too, as meetings are in place to determine resources available to us now.

I'm greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm we've been met with at every turn. The City, service organizations, and community members are taking our Summit results seriously.

As we draft a formal strategic plan to address these issues, detailing the steps and partnerships involved, as well as the areas in which we will need YOUR input, I promise to keep you posted.

I'm energized by the progress we've made in these few short weeks to show measurable progress on YOUR concerns. I'm also pleased that so many organizations and agencies are working together, as business advocates, for the health and vitality of our local economy.

After all, we’re all in this together.

~ Katie

Katie Simmons
Interim Managing Director

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Road Ahead

As I sort through the sticky notes and poster boards from yesterday's 2012 Business Summit, I am overcome with gratitude for the business leaders, community members, City staff, and elected officials who took the time to join us for an afternoon of big-picture thinking.

We went into the Summit, graciously sponsored by Alliance for Workforce Development, with several unanswered questions. We wondered if business leaders would find value in small group discussions. We wondered if we'd be successful in developing a list of finite goals. And we wondered if the energy in the room be positive.

From the feedback we've received, we can answer these questions with a resounding "yes!"

Here are the issues our 150 attendees identified as top priorities to tackle in 2012:

1. Qualified workforce
2. Regulation challenges
3. Financial assistance for business growth
4. Permit transparency

After sorting through the solutions our attendees diligently jotted down, we'll formulate strategies to address each one of these issues during the next 11 months. We're hoping to make incremental improvements this year through partnership with the City and other service organizations. We'll report back on our progress regularly, and we'll keep the business community engaged in every step of the process.

After all, even though we reached the "Summit," we've only taken the first step!

Here's an overview of our 2012 Business Climate Survey results:

Of the responses we received, most came from individuals who own or operate a business within the city limits of Chico. Most have been in business for 15 or more years and have 1-5 employees. A wide spectrum of industries is represented in these responses.

Regulations were reported as the #1 State issue inhibiting business growth, followed by Costs. A significant number of businesses feel that their needs are not being adequately represented on a state level – which is certainly good feedback.

Turning to the local level: All City regulations, policies, and practices were reported as having a neutral affect on businesses – except for Permitting which falls in the “Negative Affect” column.

Local infrastructure insufficiencies identified were: Roads, Air Commercial, and Wireless/Broadband which all fell in the “Needs Improvement” category. All other infrastructure areas identified were labeled “Sufficient.”

Challenges to growth include:
1. The economy (identified by nearly 80% of respondents)
2. Capital constraints and State regulations and practices (noted by 40% of respondents)
3. City regulations and practices (recognized by 24% of respondents)

Looking ahead, 50% of respondents indicated their business will grow or stay the same in 2012. Only 3 respondents indicated a predicted decline.

Growth opportunities in 2012 are ranked as follows:
1. Increasing sales
2. Entering new markets
3. Hiring employees
4. And introducing new products

Responses on the “Power of One” program indicate a positive reception – with 57% of respondents indicating they will or will consider creating one job in 2012.

We also asked a number of questions that required thoughtful, written responses, many of which we’ll have the opportunity to follow-up on after this event. Most comments were locally-focused: with suggestions on how to capitalize on tourism and agritourism, how to create better communication between the City and businesses, how to create partnerships that work, and how to keep business local.

The survey, in a nutshell, indicates problem areas as follows:
• State regulations
• City permitting
• Roads
• Air Commercial
• Wireless/Broadband

Given the survey results and the amazing outpouring of input we received at yesterday's Summit, we're encouraged by the work ahead.

Please feel free to contact me at to give us your feedback, to ask questions, and/or to get involved in the journey we've just begun.

Together, we are going to make positive changes this year -- there's no doubt in my mind.

~ Katie Simmons, Interim Managing Director