The Santa Rosa Chamber was born in the rubble left by the 1906 earthquake as the rebuilding of Santa Rosa began. Our community was hit harder, per capita, than San Francisco and there was need for a business organization to lead the effort to re-create a vibrant economy for our citizens and our community. The Chamber was created to fill this need.
Ever since then, our Chamber has played a dynamic leadership role in our community, not only helping individual businesses to be more successful but also tackling the challenges that confronted our community. And the list of our successes is impressive especially when viewed from the context of Santa Rosa today.
Working with Frank Doyle, co-founder and Board Chairman of the Chamber, we played a key role in the development of the Golden Gate Bridge. To quote Doyle himself, “They call me the Father of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the bridge would never have been built if it had not been for the work of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.”
This was just one of the key infrastructure projects that the Chamber helped lead to form the backbone of this community. In 1929, the Chamber in collaboration with the City of Santa Rosa deeded, free of charge, land to the new Junior College District. That land has become the Santa Rosa Junior College Campus we know today.
Years later, the Chamber helped raise the funding that persuaded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to take on the operation of Memorial Hospital.
The Chamber played a critical role in numerous other community achievements that followed including the attraction of commercial airline service to the Sonoma County Airport, the widening of 101, funding for the SMART Train, and most recently the extension of the Airport runway.
The Chamber Today
Presently, the Chamber is in the midst of an aggressive multi-year Strategic Plan aimed at providing support to our members and improving our economy. This Plan was adopted in 2009 at the depths of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. At that time, our Board created a plan that they believed would help improve our local economy and begin the process of climbing out of the recession.
Our plan had three major components. First, we enhanced our efforts to provide support to our members. As all business struggled during the recession, we worked to provide resources and services that would help. We increased our networking opportunities to give members a chance to meet with each other, share ideas, and make business connections. We provided a variety of educational and training opportunities to give our members the information they needed to survive and succeed. These included everything from how to best utilize social media and low cost marketing opportunities to human resource management issues. Finally, we worked to create direct business opportunities by referring visitors stopping at our Welcome Center in Railroad Square and driving traffic from the Chamber’s websites to those of our members.
In addition to providing support to our members, we also took on an aggressive role in the public policy arena and even entered politics. Businesses are dramatically impacted by the regulatory environment in which they operate, and our Chamber wants to be sure that those regulators hear from the business community about what will help or hinder their ability to be successful. As a result we’ve been active in providing input on the City of Santa Rosa’s plans for the reunification of Old Courthouse Square, urging more consultation with the business community stakeholders, flexibility in amending the design, and a desire for the project to be done in “discrete” stages or phases. We have also been actively involved in advocating for infrastructure improvements like the recently completed safety enhancements and upgrades at the Sonoma County Airport that are allowing us to recruit additional commercial service to points like Denver or Salt Lake or Phoenix.
The Chamber Board also took the big step of deciding to endorse candidates for elected office. At such a critical time in our economic life, the Board believes it is important that we elect officials who will listen to the concerns and needs of the business community. In the 2014 election cycle, ten of eleven candidates endorsed by the Chamber were elected. At the same time, we’ve worked hard to maintain good relations with all elected officials—each month, Advocacy Council members have more than 50 meetings and interactions with our elected officials.
Perhaps most importantly, the Chamber committed itself to engaging in economic development and job creation. This has taken two primary forms. First, working with the Santa Rosa hoteliers, the Chamber persuaded the Santa Rosa City Council to create a Tourism Business Assessment District within which a 3% assessment on overnight stays would be collected. Those funds would then be used exclusively for marketing Santa Rosa as a tourism destination. The Chamber’s Convention & Visitors Bureau has done just that using an annual budget of just over $1,000,000 to operate the Welcome Center in Railroad Square, place advertisements promoting Santa Rosa as a visitor destination, and meeting with groups and businesses interested in holding meetings, conventions and events here. In the past twelve months, those efforts in collaboration with the outstanding work of Sonoma County Tourism have resulted in booking over 8,000 room nights and securing another 12,500 leads.
In addition to marketing Santa Rosa as a visitor destination, the Chamber also took on the challenge of improving our economy by helping businesses create new jobs. This was done by creating Sonoma County BEST (Building Economic Success Together). The Chamber did this by investing in a capital campaign that raised $2.5 million primarily from the private sector to fund BEST for a five year economic development effort.
BEST’s goal is to work with existing businesses, start-ups, and those relocating here to create 2,500 direct jobs. BEST does this by contacting businesses, determining the obstacles they face and opportunities they have, and then working with them to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. BEST counts the jobs that result from this action. To date their efforts have been extremely successful as they have counted more than 1,650 jobs created.
With this great history and these current aggressive efforts, the Chamber looks ahead both to more challenges and more success. Our primary goals in the near future will include ensuring that BEST and the CVB continue their great success. Further we will continue our advocacy efforts to ensure east bound commercial air service and broader connections to the SMART Train. Most importantly, the Chamber will continue to work hard on behalf of our members and the greater businesses community. It is these businesses which are the backbone of our local economy and the sustainers of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County as a great place to live.