77.5 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Some Say Scant Resources Keep UCC From Its Potential

It was an early morning breakfast in September, 1976, when the idea for the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley came about. At the time, three different chamber umbrella groups existed to represent the Valley business community’s needs: the Associated Chambers of San Fernando Valley, the Round Table Council of Chambers, and the North-and-East Chambers. On that morning, thirteen individuals representing 11 different chambers convened to discuss creating a single umbrella group that could function as both a political advocacy group for local business interests and provide succor to local chambers in times of distress. “We realized that it was kind of silly to support three different organizations with the same intentions and missions. We wanted to create one unified body,” Bruce Ackerman, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley said of the genesis of the UCC. Ackerman, who was present at that meeting nearly 30 years ago as head of what was then the Van Nuys chamber, since renamed the Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, still lauds the UCC’s mission and leadership, but ultimately wishes that it had more resources to perform. “Conceptually, the UCC still has the right mission and direction. If I’m frustrated with anything it’s that they haven’t generated the resources they need to do the jobs that they should be doing. What they do, they do well. I just think that there’s so much more that they could be doing.” Currently, the UCC represents 22 different chambers of commerce and over 8,000 businesses. It includes every major Valley chamber save for two. The organization maintains only one paid employee, acting CEO Jim Stewart. It operates on a scant budget of roughly $50,000 a year. Shoestring budget Almost any business owner can readily illustrate the difficulties of operating on a shoestring budget. The UCC is no different, Chairman Joel Simon said. “We’re a small organization, with everything done by volunteers. It’s a very grassroots effort. It’s still a work in process. I think we could do better but our effectiveness has been good,” Simon added. “Some of the chambers have done quite well and some are still struggling. We’re in the process of opening up our board and getting more participation. It’s going to make us a stronger organization as we go along.” Stewart counts the passage of citywide business tax reform as one of the UCC’s recent achievements. “The business tax reform was one of our most notable accomplishments in recent years. We were a major player in that coalition. We testified at various hearings and kept our members informed about what was happening,” Stewart said. “The state legislature is not known for being totally pro-business and much of the legislation that we weigh in on, we haven’t gotten passed. But I think we’ve been as successful as anybody else.” Despite having snared the majority of the Valley’s chambers, the UCC does not include two of the area’s largest and most well-funded organizations: the Mid Valley chamber and North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We didn’t feel that the UCC was effective for us any longer,” said Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, CEO of the Mid Valley chamber. “We left the UCC because we felt like we didn’t get much value for our investment. The chamber is a business and we have to decide where we will disperse our funds. There are other groups out there that we feel we can belong to and get more bang for our buck.” Member chambers pay dues ranging from $100 to $500 a year, depending on their size, for membership in the UCC. Duplicating efforts Critics have also levied criticism at the UCC for duplicating the efforts of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA), as both spend much of their time engaged in political advocacy. While VICA Chairman Marty Cooper admits that the two organizations do have some overlap, he says that they still are very distinct. “The major difference is that the members of VICA are individual organizations while the members of the UCC are the constituent chambers of commerce,” Cooper said. “We have over 300 members, they have 22. We both are here to represent similar business interests, but we both have slightly different ways of going about it.” Lee McTaggart, the immediate past president of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Northeast Valley representative for the UCC, believes that the UCC has wrought significant change. “For instance, I helped the Pacoima Chamber when their membership dwindled to only five members,” McTaggart said. “I went over there representing the UCC and we helped to get them together again. In less than a year they were back up to 100 members.” Joe Vitti, the vice president of the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce, believes that having one united Valley chamber voice carries greater political weight. “Any time you can put together groups of interest and speak with one voice you can have more power than as a collection of separate interests,” Vitti said. “It makes sense that we get together and meet and vote on the issues that we face in the Valley. It makes for a stronger lobbying advocacy voice.” UCC member and past Chair, J. Richard Leyner believes that the future appears bright. “I see the UCC as becoming a bigger and bigger force as they realize that they need more exposure, management and staff, Leyner said. “I think people are starting to recognize that legislators come to our meetings and I think that our strength is going to continue.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles