The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce has hired Charlene Rosales as its director of governmental affairs to head its legislative efforts, including representing the city’s business community to local and state governments.
Rosales has been a Central Coast resident since 1985, and she’s worked for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a number of other area organizations. Most recently, she worked for the United Way for eight years, five of them as chief operating officer. She’s also served on the board of the SLO County YMCA and Rotary Club and worked as legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society.
In addition to her nonprofit service, Rosales also completed two terms on the chamber’s board and with a number of volunteer commissions for the city, including the steering committee for the Economic Development Strategic Plan, a landmark collaboration between the city government and business community that was adopted last year.
Rosales said she hopes to tap that experience at the chamber.
“All those processes really go into forming this community into what we want it be,” she told the Business Times. “Really, what we’re looking for his how to enhance the quality of life here and strengthen business.”
Even though San Luis Obispo is the eighth-largest city in the Tri-Counties, it has the second largest chamber of commerce, with 1,400 members.
“Those 1,400 businesses collectively employ more than 32,000 people in our county alone,” said Ermina Karim, CEO of the chamber. “That 32,000 is about a third of the county’s workforce.”
As a result, the chamber tracks a broad range of government policies each year, from land use to government economic goals, which Rosales will oversee. “We study, internally at the chamber, probably about 40 issues a year,” Karim said.
One issue, for example, is homelessness. Rosales has spent time in the nonprofit world, which will be a vital component to whatever solution the community comes up with. “I do know what the issues in terms both the homeless population and the organizations that are trying to serve that group. United Way is downtown, and we’re impacted by the issue. I think bring a balanced perspective,” she said.
Because it has such broad reach in its business community, the SLO Chamber has a demanding process for deciding which positions to take on government issues. Volunteer committees are formed. Those committees hold a hearing with at least three speakers — a “pro” speaker, a “con” speaker and an unbiased third-party expert. After weighting the issue, the committee makes a recommendation to the chamber’s full board.
“We really look into things in-depth. Our volunteer committee members analyze all sides of an issue thoroughly before taking a position,” Rosales said.
Karim said that the intense scrutiny helps generate positions that get the broadest support possible among the chamber’s diverse members. “It’s a rigorous process, and I think it’s that rigor that gets us to an outcome that people can understand,” she said.
Rosales said she will work toward policies that benefit the chamber’s members and support a diverse and prosperous mix of businesses in the area.
“There need to be the mom-and-pop shops and the different kind industries that make our downtown thrive. But there also need to be bigger businesses that are attracted to our area because of the quality of life,” she said. “When we work toward achieving a balance between those different types of business, then we maintain and improve the quality of life here.”