Bob Hatch is retiring after 20 years as president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the largest business group in North Santa Barbara County.
Although his retirement takes effect on June 30, Hatch will stay in the position until “until a successor is named and an orderly transition is completed,” the chamber said in a March 11 announcement.
The Santa Maria chamber has about 1,000 members, making it the fourth-largest chamber in the region. It has been a substantial influence in the development of a manufacturing and agricultural economy in North Santa Barbara County, which suffered from high unemployment during the downturn.
Under Hatch’s leadership, the group has assembled a model for public-private partnerships through the Visitor and Convention Bureau and its Economic Development Commission.
“It has been a profound honor and distinct pleasure to serve as the president and CEO of the chamber for nearly two decades,” Hatch said in a statement. “The organization has a very strong board of directors and has assembled an excellent team of high-caliber employees, and together we have strengthened our position in the industry, enhanced our operational capabilities, and maintained our impeccable reputation.”
Hatch was born in Lompoc and raised in Solvang. A U.S. Army veteran, he received numerous awards for valor — including the Silver Star, Bronze Star with V and three Purple Hearts — for his service in the Vietnam War. He was head of the Lompoc Chamber of Commerce before moving to Santa Maria and helped forge close ties between the two chambers and Vandenberg Air Force Base, the largest employer in North Santa Barbara County.
The chamber’s executive committee along with three independent board members will act as the search committee for Hatch’s replacement, the group said. It has retained staffing services firm Your People Professionals to assist in the process.
“Bob has been a very strong and dedicated leader — the second-longest serving president in the chamber’s nearly 100-year history — and has overseen the organization through challenging times and transitions” Donna Randolph, chair of the chamber’s board, said in a statement. “The board is grateful for Bob’s innumerable contributions to the chamber and his distinguished tenure as our president.”
Hatch was early to seize on the potential for North Santa Barbara County to be the commercial hub for the burgeoning wine-growing area of the Santa Ynez Valley. His advocacy for jobs and fewer restrictions on land use paved the way for the Santa Maria Airpark, an office and industrial park near the city’s airport that is just getting underway.
Hatch’s retirement comes as a number of the region’s veteran chamber chiefs have retired or moved to other careers. Among them are Dave Garth, longtime head of the San Luis Obispo Chamber as well as Steve Cushman at the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce.