Outgoing chamber CEO

Joe Erceg

“You need to check out a great opportunity in Green Valley and Sahuarita” was the advice I was given by two close business associates in early 2017.

That opportunity was to build upon a foundation laid for the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center by Jim DiGiacamo over his 15-year career as president/CEO.

The Chamber had grown over nearly four decades of service to businesses of two communities that were themselves decades apart but quite literally across the street from each other. One community was 53 years old, unincorporated and whose residents were mostly retired. The other, approaching its silver anniversary, was growing at a 700 percent clip, inhabited primarily by young families and had an average age well less than half that of Green Valley’s residents.

There appeared to be very few things the two communities shared in common save for an 85622 ZIP code, fanaticism over pickleball, heartwarming volunteerism, thousands of cycling enthusiasts and a 2:1 ratio of pets to owners.

I entered my name for consideration for the job, was selected as one of three finalists, and after a well-organized round table interview with many community stakeholders, was offered and accepted the position.

April 1, 2017, was my first day. It has been a challenging and rewarding ride ever since. Sunday was my final day at the Chamber.

Many people leave jobs with unfinished goals or without seeing the seeds they planted sprout and grow. I’d like to share a handful of my unfinished goals that I hope will continue to be pursued or come to fruition:

The goals

1. Business Mentoring: We have one of the greatest pools of former business champions living here in Green Valley. I hope our Chamber leaders will find a way to tap into that incredible resource of corporate masterminds and prepare an avenue for them to mentor the incoming tsunami of entrepreneurs and small businesses.

2. SACCA: We helped champion the formation of the Southern Arizona Chamber of Commerce Association, a group of more than a dozen chambers assisting thousands of business members. That group is, and must continue to be, an advocacy megaphone at the state capitol in behalf of small business and a resource of business tools in critical areas like marketing, workforce and professional development, human resources and health insurance. We just got started…

3. Association Health Plan: Speaking of health insurance, affordable health care continues to be the No. 1 need for small business here and across the country. SACCA was one of the first and largest associations in the country to offer an Association Health Plan (AHP) to allow member businesses to purchase insurance like larger companies through UnitedHealthcare. The plans were not subject to many Affordable Care Act market rules. In late March, a federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s summer of 2018 decision to allow associations and employers to band together to create AHPs, saying that it went beyond its authority under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). My hope is that the Department of Labor’s appeal of that ruling on Aug. 8 succeeds.

4. Collaborative Partnerships: I hope the relationships we’ve fostered or furthered continue to grow and be strengthened. From Shark Tank, to Startup Sahuarita, to the District Visioning Committee, our new “Funding Partnership for Economic Development” with the Town of Sahuarita must continue to succeed, affording our business community the tools necessary to grow existing businesses and attract new ones. While mostly symbolic, the “Partnership for an Envisioned Future” we signed on May 1, 2017, with GVC and GVR ushered in an era of unity among Green Valley’s most influential organizations that I’m confident will strengthen. This past year, Visit Tucson increased its support for our Chamber, and I had hoped to get funding for touch-sensitive kiosks in our lobby.

5. Az19 Regional Tourism Alliance: What began as a Tourism Committee at the Chamber has become a 501(c)(3) organization uniting the communities along the I-19 corridor from Nogales to “The Crossing” at I-10 and I-19. After months of meetings and planning under the leadership of Dr. Kathleen Wishnick, get ready for some exciting events beginning this fall. Man, I wish I could have continued being part of their efforts to transform this region to a year-round economy!

6. Sahuarita Unified School District: Dr. Manuel Valenzuela, Brett Bonner and his team of educators do incredible work and keep the community engaged through their monthly Sahuarita WINS! meetings. I’ll be eager to follow the progress of an internship and apprenticeship program between SUSD and the Chamber, as well as efforts to increase scholarship giving from a ramped up Chamber Education Foundation board of directors.

7. Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) Program: Beginning last fall and thanks, in part, to a $10,000 grant from Freeport-McMoRan, I predict BRE will become the most significant contribution to our business community in the history of our Chamber. Under the leadership of Victor Gonzalez, Arturo Gabaldón and Doug Christy, the solutions that will flow from our recent survey of Green Valley and Sahuarita businesses will be a game-changer.

When I arrived, it looked and felt like two communities. Yes, some subtle and not-so-subtle differences between Green Valley and Sahuarita remain. But I’ve witnessed some really inspiring changes.

Moving the cheese

The Chamber’s mission statement reads “Championing opportunities for business and our community to prosper.” There is a dedicated staff, volunteers, committee chairs and board of directors who are true champions, in my opinion. I see just two potential roadblocks to the progress we’ve made as the Chamber moves forward.

First, we must not accept old habits, methodologies and traditions to be our guideposts. If I had a dollar for each time I heard, “But we’ve never done it that way,” I’d be a very wealthy man.

Fortunately, my board was always open to new ideas. New Chamber CEO Randy Graf is from the dairy country of Wisconsin — a genuine Cheesehead. I want to encourage Randy and the Chamber board to keep practicing the lesson from the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” and to keep moving our cheese.

And finally, there was a recent survey among Chambers of Commerce that revealed that the ratio of members to staff was 62 to 1. In other words, for every 62 Chamber members there is a staff person to serve them. At present, the GVSCC staff ratio is about 180 to 1, or three times the national average — and more services are on their way as a result of the new BRE program. The solution is quite simple – more staff and/or skilled volunteers are needed. It’s my hope that the alternative of reversing the progress we’ve made, and eliminating member benefits, be deemed unacceptable.

Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy ends many meetings here with the words “I love being your Supervisor.” It has been an honor and a blessing to have served our members and my community, and I’ve loved being your Chamber’s leader.

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