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KRISTEN AMYX

Kristen Amyx Finds True Calling in Rhythm of Business

Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce president's roots in dance serve her well as she helps choreograph business development

You can take the girl out of the ballet, but clearly Kristen Amyx has dance in her fiber. The slender, graceful woman has navigated various businesses during her colorful career, which landed her as president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Kristen Amyx has been president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce since 2002. 'I fell in love with the area for so many reasons,' says the mother of two. 'The people are smart and friendly and I can raise my kids here.'
Kristen Amyx has been president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce since 2002. “I fell in love with the area for so many reasons,” says the mother of two. “The people are smart and friendly and I can raise my kids here.” (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

Amyx was born in Atlanta and raised in Freeport, Fla., a rural Panhandle town with a population of 500. After much pleading, she convinced her mother to move back to Atlanta so she could attend a prestigious Atlanta performing arts institution the last two years of high school. Amyx excelled in ballet and choreography, which would become her focus at New York University, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree.

Following NYU, Amyx founded her own dance company in Manhattan. She differentiated her business by having her productions exclusively performed to live music, which was often composed for her company.

“Live music creates a fantastic collaboration between the composers and the dancers,” she said. “The audience witnesses two types of art in an electric way.”

Amyx liked the day-to-day process of running a business and began to pull back on her dancing.

“After years of ballet, my body always hurt and my diet had to be so strict,” she recalled. “Eventually, I realized that I enjoyed running the business as much as dancing.”

And she saw an interesting parallel: running a business was similar to choreographing a production. They both required organization, outreach, management and creativity.

While her dance company did well, Amyx needed to make more money, so she took a job with Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech. Coincidentally, Amyx’s sister, Buffy Miller, was dancing professionally for Feld’s ballet company and later became his prima ballerina. For the next several years, Amyx ran an inner-city program to encourage fourth-grade students to participate in the arts. She watched as numerous children found their voice through dance and she learned the ropes of media outreach, grant writing and nonprofit infrastructure.

After seeing the grassroots efforts of the inner-city program, Amyx was introduced to the high-end ways of those at the top in the music and dance fields when she took a position with Columbia Artists Management Inc., an international leader in managing the careers and touring activities of many of the most prominent performing artists and institutions.

“I learned so much about organizing a business, running a tour and managing a workforce,” she said of her time with CAMI.

Amyx later moved to Corning, in Upstate New York, where she took a job with the local newspaper, doing marketing and graphic design with the advertising department. She joined the local chamber of commerce and immediately jumped on to various committees. While there, the chamber president approached Amyx to oversee the business plan and funding for a new visitor’s center, a three-year venture that provided her with an intimate lesson in the philosophy and branding of chambers of commerce.

In 2002, Amyx discovered Santa Barbara.

“I fell in love with the area for so many reasons,” said the mother of two. “The people are smart and friendly and I can raise my kids here.”

Coincidentally, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce was looking for a president and Amyx stepped naturally into those shoes.

“It was a great match,” she said, “because I understood the board’s process and they gave me a clear directive.”

While the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce has been a voice for business since 1947, Amyx says she ushered in a new period. She reached out to neighboring chambers to create a regional alliance around issues of employees and infrastructure in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Today, the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties represents eight chambers — Camarillo, Carpinteria Valley, Goleta Valley, Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula and Ventura — and Amyx is serving her second stint as president.

Her key mandate with the 400-member Goleta Valley chamber these days is to boost the local economy and create jobs. In that regard, Amyx said the Goleta Valley chamber is different then the chamber in Corning, N.Y., because she’s not soliciting outside companies to move in and set up shop on the South Coast. Rather, her focus is to assist the growth businesses that organically exist here already.

When asked why companies join a chamber of commerce, Amyx says there are typically one or two of five reasons: representation in local government; opportunities for business networking; promotion of the local community; resources such as permit advice or small business loans to aid in their growth; or support for their political aspirations. Additionally, members enjoy mixers, local discounts and information about issues affecting businesses of every size.

Looking forward, Amyx has also been asked to help prepare Goleta to become more of a tourist destination, as evidenced by the city’s recently approved construction of two new hotels and the creation of a Tourism Business Improvement District.

“The chamber will play an integral role in building the business infrastructure to meet the city’s new configuration,” she said.

The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce itself has seen a new configuration as the recession has forced businesses to adapt to leaner circumstances. In a bold move that has drawn attention and inquiries from other chambers around the country, the Goleta Valley organization closed its bricks-and-mortar office a year ago in favor of a virtual existence.

“It was a little sad to close the chamber office, but not sad for the reasons you may think,” Amyx said. “We had to change the way we measure our success overnight, in the face of a changing reality.

“Overnight, it seemed old-fashioned to say that we were a chamber of commerce because we had a cool office with cement floors and blue walls. With the economic changes that happened in 2009, we had to acknowledge that we are a chamber of commerce because we advocate for business, improve the local economy and jobs, help our members network with each other, provide business resources and technical assistance, and support pro-business political candidates and measures. When we measure our success in those areas, it’s a success story.”

Amyx said the benefits were immediate. For instance, rather than having directors and members come to the chamber for meetings, the chamber now goes to them. She said the change has helped introduce members to neighboring companies they might not have known about. Earlier this year, Citrix Online hosted a Webinar on the economy with Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. Companies from throughout the area logged in to participate.

“The world changed so quickly for so many businesses in 2009,” Amyx said. “I think we were not alone in that we would have likely made the same changes to our business model in due time, because they were the right choices. But we had to change fast.”

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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