Where is the future of business in Auburn? Is it in rebuilding the manufacturing base at the Auburn Airport Industrial Park, which is seeing renewed activity these days? Is it Downtown, where the first phase of the Streetscape project is taking shape with torn streets and rising brick columns? Bell Road, where large retail anchors have set down deep roots? Highway 49? Old Town? Actually, the question isn’t where, because for Auburn to succeed all of the aforementioned business districts need to be on their game. Maybe the better questions are “what?” and “when?” The Auburn Chamber of Commerce hopes to begin answering those questions next week at its annual planning conference. More of a community strategic discussion than a board retreat, the conference will include a number of “group think” sessions forming the foundation of a 2010 community business plan. Chamber members are encouraged to attend, but all community members are invited to participate. The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at the Sisters of Mercy Retreat and Conference Center, 535 Sacramento St. Cost is $45, and reservations can be made by calling the chamber office at (530) 885-5616. This is a critical time for the Auburn chamber. The organization’s board recently voted to cancel the 2010 Black & White Ball, citing the event’s marginal profitability and a desire to focus deeper on supporting Auburn-area businesses. The ball, a prime source of financial support for chamber operations over the past two decades, had been blackened and blued in the past few years by Downtown merchant criticism, tightened law enforcement and media scrutiny. Rather than continue to contend with those issues, the board opted to cut itself loose from the ball “so the chamber can concentrate on what it can do to help the business community,” said chamber President Ann Rivero. Given the immense amount of staff and resources it takes to put on an event of such magnitude, this “back to basics” approach makes sense. But only if the chamber can accomplish what Rivero states – helping the business community. Some would argue it already does that through its ambassadors program, Business After Hours mixers, weekly forums and community events, including the annual State of the Community dinner that honors top businesses, public safety and volunteers. But others say differently, that more is needed. Chamber membership has declined with the economy – maybe an indication the chamber needs to improve its position and value to retain existing members and attract new members. The chamber should be focused on business support activities through its four-point mission statement: • Provide services that strengthen its membership • Advocate policies that improve the business climate • Promote the economic development of the Auburn area • Develop coalitions with organizations to build a better community While the chamber has earned a B-plus or better grade on the fourth point, through its support and promotion of such events as the ball, the Festival of Lights Parade and Auburn Family Fourth of July, it needs to greatly improve its marks on the first three functions. The chamber has a number of other successes, including Leadership Auburn and its popular networking programs. Its Web site has been greatly improved, too, offering a professional and functional avenue to business in the area. But there’s room for improvement, and that’s where you come in. Plan to attend the annual planning conference on Oct. 9, and candidly contribute what you believe is best for the Auburn business community. Your participation will only make the community stronger during these tough economic times.