Recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 is still ongoing, perpetuating multiple challenges for local business. Santa Barbara’s business community is hosting a City Council debate at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort, 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., to query the candidates on their understanding of the challenges businesses face, and assess their willingness to support sensible strategies for ensuring businesses can continue to provide jobs and revenues in these challenging times.
Five business organizations are hosting the debate: the Milpas Community Association, the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and the National Association of Women Business Owners-Santa Barbara Chapter.
“It’s time for Santa Barbara’s business community to come together, assert one voice, and ensure that city officials understand that a vibrant local economy is key,” said Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Milpas Community Association, the lead organizer of the event. “We’re happy to see these important business organizations unite to ensure this constituency is properly recognized for its importance, and that candidates understand they need to work successfully with our city’s economic engine, should they win elected office.”
“There’s strength in numbers, and as a united voice, we can assure our needs as businesses get met,” said Luis Villegas, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Latino-owned businesses are a strong contributor of city tax revenues. Many of these businesses are long-term, family-owned. City Council needs to understand their unique needs.”
The debate format will be challenging, to encourage the candidates to provide specific answers to the business community’s concerns.
“Standard platform talking points won’t be enough for this crowd,” said Ken Opplinger, executive director of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce. “They’ll need to bring their ‘A-game’ and prove they can speak business, understand the unique challenges of running a business in this town, in this state, at this time in our economy. Without strong revenues from the business community, government budgets will be crippled. Increase the ability to generate revenues, and you increase government coffers so you can pay for needed things like infrastructure improvements.”
The Santa Barbara Association of Realtors is part of the coalition putting on the debate, as is the NAWBO-SB. Both groups want to see responsiveness and awareness of the challenges of extensive regulations and ever-increasing taxes and fees.
“NAWBO-SB is vitally motivated to share an open dialogue with our City Council candidates regarding the issues affecting the Santa Barbara business community,” said Judith Pirkowitsch, 2013 president of NAWBO-SB.
Part of NAWBO’s Mission is to influence public policy and opinion that will benefit women business owners. In fact, NAWBO recently sponsored historic legislation, SCR62, urging all publicly held corporations in the state to place more women on their boards within three years.
“The real estate market generates millions of dollars for the local economy, which makes us very interested in how the candidates will treat the business community if elected,” said Krista Pleiser, government affairs director for the Realtors. “Our concerns with home ownership and private property rights go hand-in-hand with the concerns of the local businesses, and that is why we are co-hosting this event.”
Each business organization can endorse and support campaigns that understand the Santa Barbara business community’s needs. Collectively these business organizations have more than 1,000 members. This is a key group to impress.
Milpas Community Association President Alan Bleecker, who will serve as the debate’s moderator, adds, “This debate will prove to the business community just who’s got the goods to support our local economy. We’re expecting to see which candidates are uniquely poised to help this city prosper.”
The debate is open to members of the business community, though space is limited. RSVP is required for admittance. For more information, call 805.636.0475.
— Sharon Byrne is executive director of the Milpas Community Association.