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Business and Politics

Author: Kate King
March, 2007 Issue


Recently, I received a very humbling honor. I’ve been appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to be on the newly revitalized California Small Business Board. While I’m thrilled to be participating in helping to advise the governor at such a high level and on such important matters, it’s a little scary at the same time. Two of my responsibilities as a board member will be to (as taken from the California Corporations Code Section regarding this board and its functions) “help serve as legislative advocate and ombudsman for the state’s small business community…and to advise the governor, the director and the small business advocate regarding issues and programs affecting California’s small business community, including, but not limited to, business innovation and expansion, export financing, state procurement, management and technical assistance, venture capital, and financial assistance.” Sounds like it will be a challenging and interesting experience.

My point in telling you this is that it’s made me wonder just what is it the small business community really needs to be successful in this state. I know the obvious and easiest answer would be more money, fewer regulations and less red tape. But how is that accomplished when we have such a diverse state and business base?

Questions of manpower

Some business owners have told me they need a better pool of candidates for jobs. What is the state’s role in education and training for your workforce?

Right now, there’s a lot of discussion of immigration issues and their effect on the agricultural industry. How can we meet the needs of individuals and businesses in a way that promotes dignity and respects the laws already in place?

The rising cost of insurance and the challenges of providing access to health care for workers and their families is quickly becoming an issue of paramount importance. How can we protect the earnings of small business owners while also ensuring that our workforce has adequate health care?

These are just a few of the issues that come to my mind when I look at the success (or failure) of small business. Not to mention global competition, technological advances and a host of other things I’ve yet to think about. My hope is that everyone in the business community will work with me to help me have a well-rounded approach to my new responsibilities. I’ll be asking you for advice and for your thoughts. I sincerely hope you’ll take my call.

Choose or lose

Recently, one of our membership services committee members was speaking with a chamber member and was told, “I don’t think the chamber should be endorsing political movements or candidates.” He went on to say that the chamber should be strictly about goods and services, not personalities or politics.

It’s entirely possible that there are some members who feel that way. Getting more politically active wasn’t an easy decision for the Napa Chamber board of directors. It took 18 months of arduous work, interviews of key stakeholders in the community, and the careful crafting of the first Five-Year Community Vision before the board felt comfortable endorsing candidates beginning back in the early 2000s.

The simple fact is the business community, being a true economic engine and provider of goods and services for Napa, had to have a voice in finding and electing business-friendly candidates. We couldn’t just complain about elected officials who don’t understand how their policy decisions can adversely affect businesses. We had to begin educating them about the value of businesses to the very fabric of our community. What better way than to sit down and interview each candidate before he or she gets elected and educate them about how much local business men and women care about quality of life issues? How better to find common ground and then work together than to get actively involved in the election process and support those candidates who share our vision for the future?

Isn’t it a good thing to help ensure we’ve elected officials who value all segments of the community? Would we want leaders who are only interested in a single issue or who cater only to one special interest group? No. For a balanced and healthy community, everyone should be represented and everyone should feel valued. This includes the business community.

That’s why the board decided to become a player in local politics. It was a courageous moral decision and, for the most part, I think the members are grateful we made it. As for taking positions on larger issues such as ballot measures, the chamber has the resources and structure to do in-depth research and provide our membership with valuable guidance on complex pieces of legislation that will directly affect them and their businesses. Countless members have expressed their appreciation to the chamber for this service.

So, will the chamber continue to be politically active? Yes. Do we wish that all of our members understood why we do this? Yes. Will all members ever agree on this issue? Probably not. But that’s OK. This is a great country, where freedom of speech and the right to differing opinions is encouraged. God Bless America.

Kate King, ACE (Accredited Chamber Executive) is president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce.

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