For the 200-plus small business owners gathered in a CalArts theater Wednesday night, it was a night of connecting, learning, asking and taking away hope.
Speakers at a Town Hall meeting on economic development spread the word that there were plenty of reasons to hope in an otherwise risky business environment. Perhaps the most poignant message repeated again and again was “if you’re in trouble, it’s OK to ask for help.”
The group, gathered for the first-ever SCV Economic Town Hall Meeting, were there to hear a panel of business owners and government officials talk about the current economic situation and offer suggestions for survival.
Most of the speakers, all members of the Santa Clarita Economic Development Committee of the SCV Chamber of Commerce, were optimistic as well as realistic. Moderated by attorney John Shaffery, panelists included James Hicken of the Bank of Santa Clarita, Neal Weichel of RE/MAX, Craig Peters from CB Richard Ellis, Inc. Marlee Lauffer of Newhall Land, Jim Backer of JSB Development, Chip Meyer of The Chip, Joe Messina of All Covered/Wildcat Technology, Jason Crawford, Economic Development Manager for the City of Santa Clarita, Kevin Leahy of Candleman, Charlie Gill of Integrated Property Services Group and Gerry Plummer of the Los Angeles County Office of Small Business.
Shaffery said that, while the event was organized by the Chamber, membership in the chamber was not necessary to take advantage of the resources discussed.
Hicken talked about unemployment figures and compared them to those that followed the Great Depression in 1933, noting that the numbers don’t include people who have part-time jobs who are seeking full-time employment – a situation many people are finding themselves in to make ends meet.
Honesty was something that was pounded on over and over; Peters, who specializes in commercial real estate, said that being proactive when times were tight and approaching landlords with a plan would have a much more positive outcome than going to them and simply saying “I can’t pay the rent.”
The availability of support and assistance was evident and re-emphasized by every speaker. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Weichel said.
“We can weather this storm together as a community,” Messina said, adding that if there was ever a connected area familiar with the practice of networking, it was definitely Santa Clarita. He also pointed out that working with competitors was also a survival strategy.
“Chip (Meyer) and I are competitors, but we felt it was important to work together to help the chamber group and its members network,” he said. Messina said face-to-face exchange was important, but also emphasized the tools available on the web, such as Twitter and Facebook.
“Your website is really your lobby. You need to get Googled, and I mean that in a good way,” he said, prompting laughter from the focused audience.
Government is ready to help, as Crawford and Plummer offered advice from the city and county perspective. The city is ready to launch a grant program for the redevelopment area and already gives a 10 percent local preference to vendors who come close to the low bids on a project. Plummer said that the county has a vendor registration process that identifies those wishing to work on county projects and said there was a small business preference program for those businesses registered with the state and located within the county.
He also said that county procurement officers use a “yellow pages” directory of county-registered businesses and that requirements for triple bids have been eased significantly.
“Where we used to have to get three bids for projects costing more than $1,500, now we can take the first vendor we call if the cost is less than $5,000.”
The town hall meeting was taped and will be shown on Time Warner Channel 20, ATT Channel 99 and SCVTV.com starting today. Check SCVTV.com for show times.