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SCV owners gather to talk surviving, thriving in a tough economy

Chamber of Commerce: Quarterly event focuses on partnerships, resources

Posted: February 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Dena Maloney, vice president of the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus and vice president of economic development, speaks during a panel discussion at the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly business luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. The event discussed local resources to help the SCV’s business owner...

Local business owners shared their secrets to not only surviving the recession, but growing their businesses during the brutally harsh economic period, during the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon Thursday.

With a key focus on partnerships for 2011, the chamber began this year by presenting a business panel. The six-person panel was comprised of local business owners and representatives from business-advocacy organizations.

Charlie Gill, 2010 interim chamber director and president of Integrated Property Services Group Inc., put the panel together.

Chamber Chairman of the Board Dana Cop welcomed members and introduced panel moderator Bill Kennedy, principal of Wingspan Business Consulting.

The IHOP and Hyatt hotel chain both started their businesses in a recession, and went on to survive subsequent recessions, Kennedy said. While business owners cannot always direct the wind, they can adjust their sails, he said, relaying a quote.

Build relationships
Chamber member Trish Grinnell said many business owners hide in their offices and work behind computers. The chamber allowed her to meet other people, make relationships and shake hands, she said.

“People like doing business with people they know and trust.” Grinnell said.

Being involved in the chamber helped her grow her business 500 percent since 2007. Grinnell is executive director of Melaleuca, a company that makes wellness products.

After opening in 2005, she had $3,000 in revenue, and $12,000 in expenses. Over the past four years, Grinnell managed to increase revenues, finishing 2009 with just under $200,000 in revenue — achieving her success during the height of the recession.

“Using the chamber resources,” Grinnell said, “I was able to grow my business in this recession beyond my wildest dreams.”

Reintroduce yourself
Greg Amsler, owner of Salt Creek Grille, had a simple objective last year.

“Our goal for 2010 was to be open in 2011,” Amsler said.

The recession is a time to learn and try a lot of new things, he said.

“We also went back to basics,” Amsler said. “We made sure that in our core business of food and service, we were doing the very best we could.”

Amsler advised business owners not to rely solely on social media like tweets, e-mail blasts and Facebook. He said many businesses lose touch with their customers this way, and may not have even seen their customers for a couple of years.

“Go reintroduce yourself to your customers,” Amsler said. “Let them know you appreciate their support in the past, and ask them what you can do for them in the future. Make sure they know you care about them.”

As for social media, he said businesses can use it to find out how to better serve their own customers.

Customized training
College of the Canyons has been involved with supporting the local business community more than most community colleges.

The Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center helps people in the business community get degrees and pursue higher education opportunities without leaving the Santa Clarita Valley, said Dena Maloney, vice president of the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus and vice president of economic development.

The college’s Small Business Development Center offers no-cost counseling to small-business owners, she said. And COC’s Economic Development Department has programs ranging from low-cost to customized training for local companies that need to develop specific skills in their work force.

“We see this as an investment in our community,” Maloney said. “We learn what businesses need, bring the information back to campus and develop programs that meet their needs.”

Hiring credits
The city of Santa Clarita has a virtual human-resources program for businesses, according to Jason Crawford, the city’s marketing and economic development director.

“We did the recruiting for the recent expansion of the Westfield Valencia Mall, and the new Valley Produce market,” Crawford said.

The majority of people hired through the WorkSource program also came with tax benefits for the local businesses. The city’s enterprise zone has created $100 million in tax incentives for local businesses since 2007, Crawford said.

A lot of businesses are betting on Santa Clarita, according to Crawford. The Walt Disney Co. will contribute millions of dollars to the local economy and provide many jobs.

Legal advocacy
The chamber has taken a new direction in government relations, said Damian Jones, the Chamber’s Legislative Analyst and managing partner of the Pacific Strategy Group.

“We started three advocacy councils this year,” Jones said. “We will focus on issues facing local industries.”

The three councils address biotech companies, aerospace and defense companies and the film and television industry.

With government severely paring down budgets, the gap will provide a lot of opportunities for businesses to fulfill services that government used to fill, Jones said.

“Businesses should look at how they can fill those services for less cost and provide better services,” he said.

Write letters
With the state’s Enterprise Zone Program at risk for budget cuts or elimination under Gov. Jerry Brown, chamber members were urged to write letters sharing their business stories and describing how the tax-break program benefited their businesses.

“There will be hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits over the 15-year lifespan of the Enterprise Zone,” said Jonas Peterson, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation.

The city and private sector stepped up to make the valleywide enterprise zone a reality, Peterson said.

The SCVEDC is sponsoring an economic and real estate outlook event with COC in April.

The economic development organization is also rolling out a geographic information system tool to help businesses outside the Santa Clarita Valley select Santa Clarita as a site to headquarter their company.

The tool will be loaded with lots of data to assist decision makers and encourage them to relocate to Santa Clarita, Peterson said.

Looking forward

After the long economic drought, some good news is surfacing regarding the local economy.

Occupancy permits for commercial and industrial space have been up for the past two months, said Crawford. Some 250,000 additional square feet will be occupied.

Hotel occupancy is up more than 5 percent over last year.

Salt Creek Grille, which has been in Santa Clarita for 12 years, is also seeing an improvement in business.

“People are in better moods,” Amsler said. “People are getting back in the habit of doing what they used to do.”


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