Escondido Room: making the voice of the region heard
Greater Escondido Chamber of Commerce CEO James Rowten recently served as an evangelist for the super active chamber, which carries an activist message of creating a more powerful voice for the communities that make up North Inland County.
He spoke with the nearby Valley Center Business Association, which he described in the Chamber’s weekly newsletter as a “wonderful group of smart, positive people” and added “as we networked after the meeting, he was clear to every person I spoke with how connected the two communities are. This will not surprise many of you. What is important to note here is that this is repeated in many local communities in Inland North County.
It turned out that Rowten’s conference was an opportunity to share all the things the Chamber does for the benefit of the community. Things that many Escondido residents may not realize.
“We’re all business,” Rowten said during her speech. “People pay taxes and the government needs those taxes so they can pave the streets and do the things that we need the government to do. Thus, business and government are closely linked.
Rowten, who has served as House leader for three years, noted that “I was eight months into my term when we were all shut down by COVID. It made everyone pivot and learn to do things differently.
Fortunately, Rowten said, he was backed by “a strong board of directors” who wholeheartedly supported his efforts moving forward. “The nice thing about being older is that these things don’t scare you so much,” he added.
Rowten pushed the idea of the “Grand” Chamber as a way to emphasize the strength of the nine communities that make up the Northern Interior Communities.
The Chamber’s Board of Directors includes representatives from the city’s school districts. The Chamber is doing what it can to support schools. One of them is to use the Rising Stars program, which recognizes children who don’t always perform well in school. “The program honors them and their families,” he said. “Escondido,” he said, “has a history of having a big impact in the area,” which is another reason the Chamber points out that it “serves Inland North County.” The impact we have had extends across the region.
He talked about House fundraisers, such as holding golf tournaments, which Rowten admitted can sometimes be a mixed bag financially. But, when they introduced the Escondido Chamber Cup, more community business leaders got involved, which increased interest and raised more money.
Another beneficiary of Chamber fundraisers is PAL (Police Athletic League) which helps children at risk.
“We go into schools with a vocational education,” Rowten said, adding, “Not everyone needs to have a four-year education. We have a lot of building trades members.
The Chamber also organizes job fairs. “Last year, we held four job fairs in the Chamber parking lot and found jobs for sixty-two people.”
Because the Chamber believes that businesses and local governments should have a symbiotic relationship, it is important to maintain access to City Hall. Each month, the Chamber invites members of the municipal council to meet with the executive council of the Chamber.
When Rowten first arrived as CEO, he had to mend fences with City Hall. “We have worked hard to re-establish ties with the city. Recently, one of the oldest sitting council members told us that the relationship between town hall and the chamber has never been better.
The biggest pro-business move the city has made recently was to announce it would bring Costco to the Westfield Mall (which the city owns) in space previously occupied by Sears. “It will probably happen in two years,” Rowten said. “It’s important because it’s important real estate,” with 125 retail businesses. “It is a resource for the territory.
Eighteen months ago, the Chamber created the Wonderland podcast, which is usually recorded on Fridays. The podcast interviews influential players from the perspective of the business community. “It’s really taken off. We’re using it to promote business,” Rowten said.
At the height of the pandemic, the Chamber and the City jointly developed Escondido Eats! Program, which now has 12,000 members. The Escondido Eats Facebook group has 15,000 comments and posts weekly and has become the place to go on social media for anything Escondido food or restaurant related.
Voting is now underway for the second annual “Best of” winners. They will be announced at the end of August. Members vote for Best Asian, Best Breakfast and Best Seafood, among 17 categories.
Deciding that the Chamber needed to get ahead of the movement toward electrification of transportation in the Golden State, it hosted the hugely successful Green Transportation Expo earlier this year at Westfield Mall. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we stimulate new things?’ “, Rowten said. “It’s about the electrification of transportation as a whole” and the “tons and tons of money” that will be spent on it. In the end, no matter what we might think about the justification for such a policy, he said, it happens. “The question is, how do we find our way in there?”
The Green Transpo Expo drew over 5,000 people to Escondido. All vendors who participated have signed up for next year. “We’re going to keep building on that,” he said.
Buses are electrified, construction sites are required to use green energy. “There will also be new jobs,” he said. Small businesses can take advantage of this boom. “Why wouldn’t we want to bring those jobs to Inland North County?” he said. “We can entice new businesses to come here, just like the Governor of Texas did when he traveled to states like ours to try to entice businesses to locate there.”
San Diego County, he said, “has a great lifestyle. We have the beach, an outdoor lifestyle. You can find great jobs. The Chamber plans to be represented at the Consumer Electronics Show next January in Las Vegas, “to tell them how great it is to do business in Escondido.”
He added: “We try to have an influence on the county. To build relationships and have a voice in the direction our region is taking. Let’s find a way to share the good positive things that are happening.
To have a say in the future ten, 15 and 20 years from now, we need to start planning now, he said. “We try to bring people together. Planning is the key.
Recently, the House held a “town hall meeting” with State Senator Brian Jones. “There were standing rooms only,” he said. A similar “town hall” event will take place on August 4 with Congressman Darrell Issa. The meeting will be from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Chamber, with the Committee on Government Affairs.
Finally, Rowten stressed how important it is to “shop local” to combat the influence of Amazon.com, which doesn’t care about local communities, he said. The Chamber is developing an app that will surface local businesses on mobile devices. “It will have all the licensed businesses in your area,” he said. “We are currently building the database. This will be a flagship project for us.
They also have an employee who spends half of her time managing the House’s social media platforms.
In November, the Chamber and the city hosted the annual Community in Unity event which raises funds for families in need.
The Chamber, which is very active, is reaping positive results. “We hope to increase the number of members up to a thousand,” Rowten said. “Which would make us one of the largest chambers in the county.”