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Chamber of Commerce: Teams in step with outreach initiative

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Local businesses will get a chance to have their say this week. On Thursday, the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, along with city and county officials, will hit the streets for a two-hour Listening to Business walkabout. “We’re really excited about the opportunity,” chamber CEO Bruce Cosgrove said. “We feel this is an important program for us to do. …There’s some good information that local businesses will provide that will help all of us work more closely together and focus time, energy and resources where it will help businesses most.” At least 30 two-person teams will cover the South Auburn and Maidu area, Old Town and Downtown Auburn, the Bowman/Interstate 80 commercial corridor, Highway 49 to Dry Creek Road and along Nevada Street. They’ll pose three questions: How is business, what do you like about doing business in Auburn and what improvements are needed in Auburn? Cosgrove emphasized it’s not a survey. “They’re open-ended questions that truly leave it up to the business to express how business is going, how they like doing business in the community and what they believe is needed to improve business in the community,” he said. “By approaching it as a conversation, you’re going to get much more information than if you leave it to someone to draw conclusions from a multiple-choice survey.” The program has proven very useful for Roseville and Rocklin. Both cities conducted a business walk in 2009. Mark Miller, who handles business development and physician relations for Sutter Health, participated in the Roseville walk. “It’s one thing to look at a statistical report on the economic downturn,” he said. “It’s quite another to stand eye to eye with 15 small businesses and see and feel their pain. That’s just what this type of program does. I didn’t have any idea of the magnitude. Once you start walking and talking to these folks who have businesses that have dropped in volume by 20 or 45 percent, (you see) it’s painful out there.” Miller recalled one case of a restaurant owner who had been fined for leaving a “kids eat for free” sign in front of his business a week longer than authorized. “Why is that,” the business owner asked Miller. “Should I be fined? Can I get some reprieve?” “That’s the kind of thing I brought back to the city, and (city officials) agreed it was something they should look at,” Miller said. “We should be more flexible.” The Auburn chamber will use the information gathered by the teams to generate charts, graphs, handouts and a PowerPoint report, which will be presented at the quarterly Power Breakfast March 26 at the Holiday Inn. “I’m encouraged and optimistic about the quality of the information we’re going to get based on several years that the Sacramento Metro chamber has done this, (and Rocklin and Roseville’s experience last year),” Cosgrove said. “It helped focus the resources a little better in terms of how we address issues that can positively influence and impact business.” David Snyder, director of the Placer County Office of Economic Development, will be one of the Auburn team members. “We were involved in both the Rocklin business walk and subsequently Roseville’s,” he said. “We were so impressed with the results, we are very excited that Auburn is doing (something similar).” The program’s outreach is particularly impressive. “I think it’s difficult for the cities, county and chambers to touch that many businesses in a single year, much less a single day,” Snyder said. “So the notion of reaching out and touching that many businesses in just a few short hours is very powerful, because no matter what you learn, whether it is good, bad or status quo, you’re going to know a lot more than you did earlier that day and knowledge is power.” Snyder has forwarded the information on the walk to the Business Advantage Network and selected officials at the county’s planning agency and redevelopment agency to possibly participate as well. Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com