2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year Winners

Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis: Business Leader Stresses Importance of Collective Effort for Change

There’s a principle that Craig Lewis, president of California Prudential Realty, tries to live by: “If you’re happy with the results you’re getting, then continue to do what you’re doing. But, if you want different results, you’ve got to do things differently.”

So when the Modesto City Council began to consider updates to the 25-year-old city General Plan that continued to reduce the amount of land available for economic development and the creation of jobs, Lewis and the Modesto Chamber decided to take action by creating a new plan to present to the city council.

Proposing a Plan

Under Lewis’ direction, the Modesto Chamber Land Use and Transportation Committee rallied business members and held information-gathering discussions with a variety of local government officials, community leaders and stakeholders. Based on the information gathered in the meetings, Lewis and the committee developed well thought-out plans to create job centers, new functional traffic corridors and detailed maps depicting these plans for the greater Modesto area.

The plans were presented to critical and influential decision makers in the Modesto community to solicit support for transportation improvements, employment opportunities and a stronger local economy.

Pushing for Change

Although the proposed plan has gained much support, the city planning department has proposed its own plan in response, which means there are going to be debates and discussions as to what the city’s future should look like, Lewis said.

Essentially, it’s now “a political fight,” he said, between those who are content with the way Modesto is, and those who would like to see more job creation and long-term planning.

Lewis forms part of the latter group, stressing that the city suffers from a lack of long-term vision, economic diversity and brain drain, because there are no jobs other than those in the agricultural sector.

“We’ve been doing the same thing for 40-plus years in Modesto, and consequently we’re being left behind when you compare us to other communities in California,” he said. “The ironic part is that some people like it the way it is. Our biggest challenge is fighting the status quo.”

And this is why advocacy is important.

“It’s the only way you can change things,” Lewis said.

Advocating for Small Business

Like Modesto, California also has important issues facing small business and job growth. The most pressing business issue facing the state is “places where people can actually grow their business,” Lewis said.

Also of concern is regulation, such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, building permit process and restraints put into place for emissions, he added.

This is where a chamber of commerce can help tremendously with advocacy efforts as its role is “to be an advocate for business,” he said.

In addition to working on the General Plan proposal, Lewis and the Modesto Chamber Land Use and Transportation Committee also lobbied last year for additional business park land, recommending downtown redevelopment projects and tackling tough business issues relating to economic development, including improving air service and ground transportation.

On May 21, the California Chamber of Commerce presented Lewis with a Small Business Advocate of the Year Award​ in recognition of his hard work and dedication to advocating for small business.

In recommending him for the award, Cecil Russell, president and CEO of the Modesto Chamber, said, “Craig has positively impacted our community by not only discussing, but taking action on land use and transportation and other pressing issues facing the Modesto and San Joaquin Valley communities.”

Moreover, even though the issues Lewis worked on are challenging and time consuming, Lewis “remains undaunted and driven,” Russell said.

In addition to serving as chairman of the Modesto Chamber Land Use and Transportation Committee, Lewis is the former chairman of the Modesto Chamber Board of Directors. He currently is serving as vice chairman of external operations.​​​

Robert Stockton

Robert Stockton: Riverside Engineer Talks About Unique Impact of Small Business Advocacy​​​

A Riverside resident since 1988, Robert Stockton, vice president and principal-in charge at Rick Engineering, is keenly aware of the myriad of economic issues his community and city face.

As chair of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce Economic Development Council for the last two years, Stockton has been instrumental in leading the chamber’s efforts to build a strong local economy through business attraction and retention strategies, as well as advocating practical and business-friendly policies in environmental regulation and land use.

Last year, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed Stockton to the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and ​Geologists.

When the Riverside Board of Supervisors voted to start charging new solar-power developers a fee, balanced with incentives, to pay for land use rights, Stockton represented the chamber before the board and stressed that the city should be in partnership with the solar industry in order to not discourage new development and job creation.

Stockton also testified before U.S. Representatives Ken Calvert (R-Corona), Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) and Tom McClintock (R-Roseville) on the negative impacts that a critical habitat designation for the Santa Ana sucker fish would have on the region’s access to water.

Last year, Stockton assisted efforts of the Greater Riverside Chambers to partner with the City of Riverside in commissioning the Regional Intelligence Report, a study to identify the baseline economic indicators in specific industries that will have an impact on inland Southern California in the future.

Key Issues

Yet, out of all the issues Stockton has brought to the attention of elected officials, one of the most significant to him has been securing funding for the new University of California, Riverside medical school.

The first medical school built in 40 years west of the Mississippi River, the establishment of the UC Riverside School of Medicine was approved in 2008, but faced many funding challenges due to the state’s economic downturn and resulting budget cuts. This year, however, Governor Brown approved $15 million in annual funding that the University of California system will direct toward the school.

The mission of the school is to expand and diversify the physician workforce in inland Southern California and to develop research and health care delivery programs that improve the health of medically underserved populations. This is especially pertinent to Riverside, as the city currently lacks primary care physicians, Stockton said.

In addition to easing the health care demands the city faces, the school will have an economic “multiplier effect” on local industries, he added.

This is why for Stockton and the Greater Riverside Chambers, the school is especially important.

“Our top priority was to get the Legislature to approve funding for the school,” he said. “It was a long, drawn effort, but it finally came into fruition.”

Another significant issue for Stockton was advocating for disability access reform. Stockton and the Greater Riverside Chambers advocated heavily for reforms in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C., where they met up with Senator Dianne Feinstein(D-San Francisco) to bring up the issue of making reforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to curb frivolous lawsuits against businesses.

The ADA reform effort eventually led at the state level to the introduction of SB 1186 (Steinberg; D-Sacramento/Dutton; R-Rancho Cucamonga). The bill, which was supported by the California Chamber of Commerce in 2012, sought to limit frivolous litigation regarding technical violations concerning access by reducing statutory damages, increasing pleading requirements and banning pre-litigation, monetary demand letters.

“Lawsuits were being filed prevalently, especially against small business,” Stockton said. “They were essentially being blackmailed.”

The bill was signed by the Governor last year.

Advocacy Is Important

The success of these efforts demonstrates why it’s so important to be active in advocacy. Many times, elected officials rely heavily on what they hear from their constituents, Stockton said.

“If you don’t have a voice at the seat of the table, you’re not going to get heard,” he said. “When someone else gets heard, that means that your issues are not going to end up being a priority.”

In recognition of Stockton’s extensive advocacy on behalf of small businesses, the CalChamber presented him with a “2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year​” award in May before more than 200 attendees at the CalChamber Legislative Briefing.

In nominating Stockton for the award, Greater Riverside Chambers President and CEO Cindy Roth said, “It is individuals like Robert who maintain countless hours of service, tireless work ethic and unyielding commitment to our chamber mission and its members, which keeps our businesses thriving.”

For those wanting to be more involved in the business community, Stockton recommends joining a chamber business council and then finding a committee that suits an individual’s particular passion.

Jim Vigdor

Jim Vigdor: Simi Valley​ Leader Emphasizes Dialogue with Lawmakers​​​

“I just see you everywhere,” is a phrase Jim Vigdor, operations/environment, health and safety manager for Alcoa Fastenin​g Systems, is accustomed to hearing.

He heads a support group for parents of youth at risk for drug use and attending Residential Treatment Facilities; is chair of the Simi Valley Alcoa Foundation Grant Distribution; is involved in the Simi Valley Community Foundation; and lobbied the city council to donate more than $200,000 toward the Under One Roof project, a project that will house 15 social and human service agencies in one building to ease the cost, and burden of accessing supporti​ve services from various locations around the community via public transportation.

Given his enjoyment of being actively involved in the community, it is no surprise that community work is what brought Vigdor and the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce together.

Wher​e It Star​ted

About 10 years ago, Vigdor, under the auspices of the Alcoa Foundation, worked with the Simi Valley Chamber and others to determine possible candidates for Alcoa Foundation Community Financial Grants. It was only a matter of time before Vigdor, as a representative of Alcoa, began to attend Simi Valley Chamber meetings.

His first lobbying efforts on behalf of business came when he realized the negative impact workers’ compensation costs were having on his own business. Upon getting involved with the chamber, Vigdor realized it was a place where his voice could be heard.

Today, Vigdor is vice chairman of the board of the Legislative Advocacy Forum for the Simi Valley Chamber. He serves as an ambassador for Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), and an appointed delegate for Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).

Problems Facing Business

Having worked in Simi Valley for the last 14 years, Vigdor sees workforce development as the most pressing issue facing small business in the region today. One of the ways the Simi Valley Chamber Economic Development Team is tackling that problem is through a program that helps schools prepare local high school students with in-demand skills, and align those students with businesses.

“In Simi Valley, there’s a definite need for a skilled workforce,” Vigdor said. “We are reaching out to students who are not on the college track to expose them to a variety of different industries to pique their interest.”

Like Simi Valley, California also has a problem with workforce development, Vigdor said. That’s why improving the state’s education system is important—because that’s the system that’s putting together the future of business, he said.

“We need to educate our youth so they can segue into a variety of different industries,” he stressed.

What is also troubling in the state is the “business-unfriendly environment,” Vigdor said. The myriad of fees, taxes and regulations inhibits growth and innovation, especially with small businesses, he said.

Of concern is the amount of new legislation being put forth that is not business friendly.
“A lot of legislators don’t get how difficult it is for businesses to work in California,” Vigdor said. “That sensitivity needs to rise because we see a lot of businesses that are leaving or wanting to leave [the state].”

To improve the economy, Vigdor believes the dialogue needs to improve.
“Some of this legislation needs to be looked at to see the economic end and business perspective so we can improve the economy in California and locally,” he said.

A Small Business Advocate

Last year, the California Chamber of Commerce presented Vigdor with the “2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year Award”​before more than 200 attendees at the CalChamber Legislative Briefing for his tireless advocacy work on behalf of businesses.

In 2012, Vigdor lobbied against Regulation Z, which threatened to have a severe impact on mortgage brokers and associated businesses; was instrumental in the Simi Valley Chamber’s support of AB 1982 (Gorell; R-Camarillo), a CalChamber job creator bill that would have extended the time required for businesses to comply with new regulations; and helped Assemblyman Gorrell’s office with AB 1326 (Gorell; R-Camarillo), a CalChamber job creator bill that would have attracted manufacturing jobs to the state.

Importance of Advocacy

Although Vigdor believes that advocacy, communication and the flow of information between the decision makers and people affected by those decisions are critical, Vigdor sees that there is a lack of knowledge when it comes to using legislators as resources. Nevertheless, legislators need to be advised on the concerns of business.

“Many of our legislators reach out to the constituents to garner information, but I think that’s a small percentage, and it would be more beneficial if it were a larger percentage,” he said.