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Industry group connects businesses with success

Posted: February 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.

From left, Alan DiFatta, Kathy Norris, Chris Chapleau, Jeanne Duarte, Jill Mellady, Andrea McAfee of the Valley Industry Association.

 

For more than three decades, the Valley Industry Association has served as a collective body of, and voice for, businesses located in the manufacturing and industrial geographic pockets and business parks operating throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

And it takes its role pretty seriously.

Based on feedback from local industries, the organization has created programs to help local businesses succeed and grow. They range from helping businesses connect locally to actively pursuing regulatory reform in areas that impede an industry’s ability to grow, said the group’s chief executive. And this year it plans to ramp up programs begun in 2013.

“The Valley Industry Association’s mantra for 2014 is to build firm connections and relationships with other local businesses and to grow through information, education and advocacy,” said Kathy Norris, president and CEO of VIA.

The Valley Industry Association formed its Regulatory Reform Committee to support its members by focusing on local, regional and statewide issues that affect industry.

But, when the county proposed storm water fees and the state mandated treatment for chloride in water runoff, those issues threatened industry businesses with huge fees.

As a result, VIA gathered a coalition of key stakeholders, forming a new nonprofit, SCVOne Water, to take on and tackle tough water issues and help promote collaborative, innovative, cost-effective, sustainable solutions to managing the region’s watershed.

The coalition board of directors consists of VIA, Storm Water Resources, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Newhall Land, the SCV Chamber of Commerce, SCVEDC and the Building Industry Association Southern California’s Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter. A larger body of leaders is associated with the coalition, as well as bringing as many players to the table as possible, Norris said.

“The goal is to bring stakeholders together and get everyone at the table so that all the feedback can be heard and all can contribute to putting a plan together,” Norris said.

The benefit is collective representation of all business and industry in the SCV.

“It’s a larger voice for businesses within our community and at the local, state and federal level by working with legislators,” Norris said. “A collective voice has more weight than a single phone call or letter.”

The Valley Industry Association also formed a committee to work with the city of Santa Clarita to find ways not only to streamline the permitting process, where possible, but also to help educate small business owners on what might be needed before they take the plunge on signing a lease to open or expand their business without knowing all that might be required from the city or County of Los Angeles.

The city of Santa Clarita was extremely responsive, and together VIA and the city have made some big strides to work through the kinks of reaching out to people and help them better navigate the process more cost-effectively,” Norris said.

Of course, while the city has no control over county requirements, they’re extremely receptive to all ideas involving the city because anytime someone opens a new business, it’s an advantage to the city and local residents, she said.

“Other states are dangling carrots in front of businesses, and we need to do what we can to keep our businesses here and help them be successful,” Norris said.

As for VIA members, connecting a blend of industrial, commercial and service companies has proven to help newly launched companies grow as well.

VIA allowed Chris Chapleau’s four-year-old business, ABMSoCal with IBM Systems, to build a tremendous number of relationships with the city, nonprofits and notable businesses around town, leading to relationships, connections and more business, he said.

“We basically went from zero to over 200 customers in our Santa Clarita office in large part because of the relationship with the Valley Industry Association,” said Chapleau, also VIA’s 2014 chairman of the board.

But, the biggest value the organization brings is its ability to engage on so many fronts, he said.

VIA’s upcoming annual B2B Industry Show helps connect manufacturers with other local companies that might produce products and services the manufacturers need, reducing the amount of product or services that might currently be imported from outside the area or county, Norris said.

“It helps to invest in the local economy and each other’s success to build more local connections and grow local businesses,” she said.

In addition, the monthly educational luncheons - which have included speakers like Kish Rajan, director of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and a New York economist from OppenheimerFunds - focus on topics of interest to members.

Also, recognizing that local industry needs future employees and leaders, VIA zeroed in on the needs identified by local industries by launching two other programs.

“Connecting to Success was begun 13 years ago when CEOs said that students entering the workforce were missing some vital workplace skills,” Norris said.

Since then, the organization tailor builds a program each year based on the “soft skills” employers say are lacking, and goes into the school system with business professionals to work on building their skills through the Connecting to Success program.

Noting a void of younger leaders emerging in the community, VIA also created a nine-month leadership program three years ago. Almost all the graduates are in leadership positions today within VIA, and three sit on the board of directors, Norris said. The result has been a good exchange of ideas which has energized everyone.

“If we build strong leaders, we build a stronger business community,” Norris said. “We want to make sure there are leaders engaged to keep moving the business community moving forward.”

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