Tom Kelley’s announced departure from the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce raises a prospect worth considering — the creation of a larger and more impactful business organization for West Ventura County.
That’s why we’d encourage the boards of directors of the Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo Chambers to consider creating a West Ventura County Chamber of Commerce.
The political stars haven’t always aligned behind the idea of a mega-chamber for the west county. Turf wars between Ventura and Oxnard over retail centers and auto malls have been vicious and deeply undercutting.
Camarillo has its own self-contained issues, such as relations with CSU Channel Islands and its thriving factory outlet mall.
But on balance, we believe the similarities between these communities far outweigh the differences. And speaking with a single voice across a population of something like 400,000 folks, the west county business community is likely to get more notice and a greater hearing.
These three communities represent the heart of Ventura County commerce, including large agribusiness interests, manufacturers and major retailers. They also represent the county’s struggling small-business sector — one that is key to growing jobs and reducing the double-digit unemployment that plagues Ventura County.
We’re not suggesting that every other chamber in the west county join a combined effort. Port Hueneme would be a logical partner but it may have its own agenda; Santa Paula and Fillmore have development and business issues that might make them want to remain independent.
A model for a merged chamber operation already exists in Ventura County in the form of the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. Under the leadership of former President Janet Levett, the Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village chambers merged and formed a powerful organization. Now with Jill Lederer at the helm, the group encompasses Agoura Hills and operates on an even bigger footprint under its new name.
Sandra Walker, the new president at the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, is a Camarillo resident and former executive at the Camarillo chamber. Veteran Chamber President Nancy Lindholm is in Oxnard, and she has been a strong advocate for creating a bigger regional voice for business in the region.
It ought to be relatively easy for the three boards to see if a merged chamber is a viable option. If so, let it proceed with gusto.