By: Al Smith: Chamber President/CEO
A new year! A new opportunity! There is an annual ritual that takes place at the beginning of each new year where we find occasions to kind of start all over. To analyze what happened yesterday – good bad or indifferent – and to gaze out toward tomorrow on what might be. Some call it New Year resolutions.
As the Fresno Chamber enters its 129th year of existence, it too pauses to see what the future brings. In it’s over a century and a quarter of service to the Fresno area, it has had some great victories, such as the passage of the Measure C transportation tax; the building of the Los Angeles to Fresno railroad. It actually ran the airport in 1926 and later the Fresno Fair. It helped facilitate the building of Pine Flat dam and was the originator for today’s Convention and Tourist Bureau and the Economic Development Corporation. It has had great leadership with iconic names like Gundlefinger, Eaton, Peters, Chandler and many more.
It has also had some virtuous failures; probably the most prominent was the effort to integrate public safety five years ago. Although the City and County agreed publicly that they would support getting rid of duplicate safety services, in reality it was undermined by territorial protection and political posturing and the public is still suffering from it.
So what quality of life and economic changes are on the horizon that our Chamber can influence?
Crime remains a problem which primarily stems from a lack of education. So those two areas must remain high on the priority list. Two Chamber programs aimed at bringing high school student more into the free enterprise effort is The Junior Board (50 area students learning to become community leaders) and the Entrepreneur Excitement(Disadvantaged students given business building opportunities).
Additionally, the Chambers Political Action Committee is interviewing school board candidates in anticipation of the upcoming election – to ensure that quality candidates with “student’s interests first” are positioned to keep moving our school systems ahead.
And another influencer of crime – High unemployment.
With 55,000 of our neighbors out of work, it is crucial that we utilize any and all opportunities to get people back to work. The recently formed and Chamber supported “Creating Prosperity Group” composed of local business, educational, cultural, and civic members are aggressively working to expand business parks, efficient government oversight on permitting and career technical education. We also laud and assist with Mayor Swearengin’s “Business Friendly Fresno” task force, addressing generational roadblocks that have hampered the construction industry – a main driver of jobs.
So as we look over the horizon, mostly we see the same challenges as we did in 2013. But perseverance is paramount. These issues did not develop overnight and they won’t be resolved overnight.
With 1,400 plus Chamber members banding together and staying focused, one by one, these issues will be improved. As we move into 2014 we want to reinforce that classic slogan, “The Chamber does things that people think, just happens”