Erik Valencia is one of the few to graduate from Western Association of Chamber Executives persevering through COVID hiatus
REEDLEY – One of Erik Valencia’s best attributes as Reedley Chamber CEO is bringing big town ideas while keeping the organization’s small town feel. Just this month Valencia graduated from the Western Association of Chamber Executives’ three year academy.
The academy is broken up into three days per year for three years. Valencia started the course in 2019, but because of COVID his class did not graduate until this year. He said there were upward of 60 people who started his class, but only 14 ended up attending all the way through. To be one of the few who completed the academy Valencia said that he learned a lot about how to keep small chambers thriving.
“So a lot of it is, you know, building the opportunities for connectivity. We do downtown focus groups, for example, we’ve just recently met and pulled together all our downtown members to discuss specific issues or needs that they have. Things like that,” Valencia said.
If small local chambers are not investing in ways to better connect and advocate for their communities, Valencia says they are heading in the wrong direction. Fortunately for him, his ethos of community involvement has been praised and encouraged by his board of directors.
“Structurally, I think we have built a strong foundation for our chamber. I was very lucky that the chairman, when I came in, had done a great job of setting that already. So when I came in, I just had to worry about what I was doing,” Valencia said. “A lot of chambers that I’ve talked to don’t have that luxury. So I credit a lot of my success to that structure.”
Part of the connectivity that Valencia is trying to bring together is not just among business in his community, it is also with the chamber itself. Valencia said “when the chamber succeeds the community succeeds” and part of that is working with the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation and Workforce Connection to name a few. “I really work to bring those organizations here…so that they can serve the businesses together,” Valencia said. “Because my whole thing has been that we’re not in competition, we’re all doing the same thing. We all want our businesses to succeed.”
And when it comes to attending his industry academies some of the most valuable connections are made after the seminar where he can collaborate with other CEOs from similar towns, or larger cities. “We’ve had conversations after a class and went to have dinner, and a lot of the people ended up calling on the phone. And actually, this weekend, I have a friend that I’ve made that’s going to come visit us with our strategic planning for two days,” Valencia said.
Besides being a convener, Valencia said that chambers need to consistently advocate on behalf of their businesses where they live. In particular at the governmental level.
“You know, these are things that chambers need to do, they need to be more involved in making sure they’re connecting with local government, county government, state government, because we really are the advocates for our businesses in our community,” Valencia said.