In the four weeks Glenn Morris has been on the job at the Santa Maria Valley’s leading business organization, he’s been hearing a lot from various facets of the community.
“I’ve been on kind of a listening tour for the last month,” said Morris, 47, in his new office in the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau.
He became the organization’s first new leader in 20 years, replacing Bob Hatch, who retired at the end of the June as president/chief executive officer. Morris came to the Central Coast from a job leading the Visalia Chamber of Commerce in Tulare County for the last five years.
Santa Maria is similar to Visalia in that both have agriculture industries to provide solid foundations and both are regional hubs for retail shopping, commerce and culture, he noted.
“I think there are some opportunities for us to continue to ... help folks finish coming out of the economic recovery, and then directing that energy that will build into improving the overall community,” Morris told Noozhawk.
For instance, he said, one step may involve better integrating with the education system at all levels to improve the workforce development cycle so those seeking jobs have the skills businesses require.
“We can speak both of their languages and help them understand each other better,” he said. “That’s a big piece of the work I think a chamber should do.”
The Santa Maria Valley chamber also can help foster homegrown entrepreneurs.
“I think there some interesting things going on around the country that we can try to learn from in terms of supporting entrepreneurship, and in communities like ours I think that’s an important step,” Morris said. “I call it the self-help approach to economic development — take the talents and passions of our neighbors and help them figure how to make a living doing what they love to do.”
One of his last activities on the job in the San Joaquin Valley involved overseeing the organization’s awards banquet. It will be one of his first duties here as the Santa Maria chamber’s annual installation and awards dinner set for Aug. 13 at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge, 1309 N. Bradley Road.
At the event, the chamber will honor Hatch, former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray and Community Bank of Santa Maria. Also on the agenda are the installation of new chairman Tim Ritchie and recognition of outgoing board members.
Morris actually spent 13 years inall in Visalia, where he worked for economic development and tourism organizations.
In Santa Maria, all three of those functions — chamber of commerce, economic development and tourism — fall under one roof.
Santa Maria chamber leaders said they chose Morris after an extensive search because of his breadth of experience.
“Glenn will bring with him to his new position professional experience in economic development, tourism, and convention and event planning,” chamber leaders said in the May announcement of his hiring. “He is skilled in organizational management and has been successful in creating programs, enhancing existing opportunities and working with diverse groups of individuals.”
One thing Morris has found since arriving is that the Santa Maria organization is in good shape.
“This chamber is well-positioned in the community,” he said. “It has good strong relationships with both government and private-sector leadership.”
Many of the existing programs are solid, he added.
“My opportunity coming in new is to kind of take a fresh look at some of that and see if maybe there are ways we can advance it to another level of effectiveness,” Morris said.
He said he also wants to assess potential new partnerships that can be built, for instance, with nonprofit or business organizations to avoid duplicating efforts — where it makes sense.
“We’re obviously going to try to do a better job of telling our story and by doing so attract more members,” he said, adding the chamber has 800 members. “I don’t think we need to sell chamber membership to businesses. I think we have to educate folks about what we’re doing and why it’s to their advantage to be a participant.”
From the chamber standpoint, a community’s health care, schools, arts, social services and recreation offerings are key to a healthy business climate.
“All of those things come together to create an environment in which businesses can succeed,” he said. “If any of them are kind out of sync, I think it impacts businesses across the board.
“If your employees aren’t happy they’re not going to be as productive.”
Morris’ career has been focused on business support or educational organizations.
“My interest has always been how we can support businesses and then, by extension, how we can support the overall community,” the Utah native said. “That just naturally seems to lead to chambers. I really enjoy the role that a chamber can play in a community.”
One responsibility of a chamber of commerce is to find ways to help businesses become more successful by the chamber sharing information, providing marketing opportunities and doing other core business activities, Morris said.
“Beyond that, I think chambers play a role in representing that employer community in the broader community conversation about how do we create a community that is healthy and is where people want to live and work and shop and raise their families,” he said. “I think those are the two facets of what we do here as an organization.”
Before moving to California, Morris worked for an educational organization in northern Virginia. He attended Utah State University and holds degrees in human relations and information systems.
He recently earned the Accredited Chamber Executive designation from the Western Association of Chamber Executives.
Morris and his wife, Shana, have four children — two of whom moved here with them — plus a new grandchild.
“I found this to be a very friendly community, very welcoming, which has been a pleasant transition,” Morris said. “People have made us feel welcome, made my family feel welcome. That’s a good start.”