2014 Small Business Advocate of the Year Winners

Scott Miller


Scott Miller: Small Business Advocate of Year Award Winner

Small Business Advocate of Year Award: ​Nursery, Landscaping Company Owner Fights for Business​​​​​​​​​​

For more than 10 years, Scott Miller has worked with the Fresno Chamber of Commerce to give the small business perspective on local and state issues.

Miller, a recipient of the 2014 California Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advocate of the Year Award, said he is consistently amazed at the difference small business owners can make simply by attending chamber meetings.

“In our community [Fresno], it certainly works that way, but even at a state or federal level, having a small business owner show up at the capitol to talk to electeds face-to-face seems to make a difference because it puts a face on the issues that the legislators deal with, as opposed to emails,” he said.

Advocacy Makes a Difference

As owner of Miller-Clark Landscaping and Gazebo Gardens Nursery, Miller fully understands the challenges facing small business owners working in California.

“The state seems to be hell-bent on making it more difficult for us to do every simple task,” Miller said. “It’s a real disincentive sometimes to be here, or to hire people, or to do any of the simple things that we might want to do.”

He sees first-hand how positive the benefits of advocacy can be toward his enterprises and the word of mouth that comes with it.

“[Advocacy] has done nothing but good for my business, both in terms of understanding issues before they happen to us, but even as simple as networking,” Miller said.

Volunteering with a Purpose

In addition to serving with the Fresno Chamber the past decade, Miller also has been active in the chamber’s various programs. He was the founding director of the Junior Board, a nine-month program which promotes civic activity to high school students, and a founder of the Small Business University program, which offers business and advocacy seminars for small businesses.

Miller also proposed and created a prime-time televised special, “Public Safety Forum,” that featured the Fresno mayor, supervisors, police chief and sheriff on the impact of crime on business and the community.

This volunteering has had Miller representing small business interests before the California Legislature, the Fresno City Council, and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. “Scott Miller has served his community and this chamber for many years in injecting and helping formulate supportive governmental policies that benefit businesses and the free enterprise system,” said Fresno Chamber President and CEO Al Smith in nominating Miller for the Small Business Advocate Award.

Chamber, Business Responsibility

Miller currently serves as a board member for the San Joaquin Political Academy, an arm of the Fresno Chamber. He was a member of the chamber’s governmental affairs council, serves on the chamber’s executive committee and chairs the political action committee.

With all these endeavors, Miller stresses that a chamber’s responsibility to the collective businesses that comprise it is to be supportive and forward thinking.

“Our chamber’s responsibility to our business community is to support it,” he said. “To make our business owners aware of events that are coming down the pike from a legislative point of view that are going to either be good for us or potentially cause us some damage. And, to get in front of those instead of reacting to them.”

He also sees that it is business members’ responsibility to support their local chambers as well.

“I think all of our businesses have the responsibility to support our chamber in some way, at a minimum through membership,” Miller said. “Because the chamber is the only organization, in many communities, that is always there for business and always advocating for us as business people.”

​​​​Small Business Advocates of the Year

Each year, the California Chamber of Commerce recognizes several small business owners who have done an exceptional job with their local, state and national advocacy efforts on behalf of small businesses.

Honorees are nominated by local chamber of commerce executives. The criteria used in the selection process include taking leadership roles in or working on federal, state or local ballot measures, testifying before the state Legislature and representing a local chamber of commerce before local government. ​

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson: Small Business Advocate of Year Award: Redondo Beach Chamber Chair Fights for Business at All Levels

Taking action on issues that matter to him has been second nature to Redondo Beach business leader Michael Jackson for decades.

Jackson, a 2014 recipient of the California Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advocate of the Year Award, traces his interest in advocacy to his college days, when he was interning at the California State Capitol while working toward his master’s degree in public administration at California State University, Chico.

Advocacy “was just part of the way my life evolved,” says Jackson, current chair of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and vice president of business development at The Dardanelle Group Inc., a transportation consulting company based in Redondo Beach.

Advocacy at All Levels

Before his current positions, Jackson spent 27 years in government relations posts with TRW Inc. and Boeing, with responsibilities that included representing each company’s legislative and political interests with state, federal and local elected officials.

That aerospace industry experience has proven helpful in keeping the chamber “on top of critical issues that face our community,” according to Dinah Lary, Jackson’s predecessor as chair of the Redondo Beach Chamber Board.

“He eagerly shares his vast knowledge and experience of the legislative and political process with each project he works on,” Lary wrote in recommending Jackson for the CalChamber award.

“I think as a chamber member one of the most important things you can do is represent the interests of small business before government agencies at all levels,” Jackson says. “If we don’t do it, we won’t have the opportunity to communicate the true effects of punitive, anti-business legislation and regulation.”

Jackson has lobbied both state and federal offices, agencies and executive offices in support of the federal Surface Transportation Act to secure additional transportation funding for California, specifically for Southern California.

He also has worked to secure federal funding for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Local Efforts

Advocacy on local issues is equally important to Jackson, who describes a key responsibility for a chamber of commerce:

“First and foremost is representing the community itself,” Jackson says. “Many people don’t want to get involved in politics. But as a leader in the business community, I think it’s really important that we get involved, making sure we elect pro-business city councilmen and that we advocate pro-business policies that affect our local community.”

Jackson created a “local issues” committee and serves on the Redondo Beach Chamber’s Government Relations Council. He also heads the chamber’s Political Action Committee and is leading the chamber through a community issues polling process.

As chairman of the city Harbor Commission, Jackson played a key role in the revitalization of the Redondo Beach waterfront, and continues to advocate on behalf of waterfront business owners to make significant changes to the city’s aging pier and harbor facilities.

Waterfront business owners have committed to significant renovations over the next three years, and the city also is investing in public facilities.

Business Challenge

Asked about the challenges facing California business, Jackson starts with what he deems the biggest of these: “Being taken for granted.”

Citing the Democratic control of the Legislature, Jackson states, “We have to stand up and represent the fact that we are not partisan. We are pro-jobs and jobs are good. It’s a bipartisan product of what we have to do. The public sector cannot employ everyone; the private sector is who pays the taxes.”

Getting Involved

For business people interested in getting involved in advocacy, Jackson has this advice:

“I think the biggest thing is don’t assume that everyone else is doing it,” Jackson says. “Never ask me, ‘Why should I get involved in the chamber of commerce?’ or ‘What am I going to get out of it?’

“You get out of it what you put into it. It’s the intangible stuff that you really can see the benefits from. And after a while, you’ve got a dozen things you’re doing on behalf of the business community. That really is so fulfilling and it’s a lot of fun.”

Small Business Advocates of the Year

Each year, the California Chamber of Commerce recognizes several small business owners who have done an exceptional job with their local, state and national advocacy efforts on behalf of small businesses.

Honorees are nominated by local chamber of commerce executives. The criteria used in the selection process include taking leadership roles in or working on federal, state or local ballot measures, testifying before the state Legislature and representing a local chamber of commerce before local government. ​

More details and past winners are listed on the CalChamber Small Business Advocate of the Year Award page.​

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Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch: Small Business Advocate of Year Award: Focus on Community Motivates Turlock Chamber Leader

“I care about where I live, the community,” says 2014 Small Business Advocate Award recipient Mike Lynch. Perhaps that sentiment best explains Lynch’s tireless efforts in advocacy with his local chambers in both Turlock and Modesto over the last 11 years.​

He joined both chambers in 2003, the same year he started his consulting firm after years working at the local, state and national level as a staffer for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors from 1974 to 1979, the State Assembly from 1979 to 1989, and the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 to 2002.

As chairman of the Government Relations Committee at the Turlock Chamber, Lynch has organized meetings and a forum that brought in stakeholders and speakers to discuss the water challenges facing the city of Turlock and California as a state. He also orchestrated a letter-writing campaign of chamber members to the State Water Resources Control Board last year.

Water in Stanislaus County

“The water issue here is fundamental to our economy and our quality of life,” Lynch says. “Our very lifestyle.”

Water usage has a profound effect on Stanislaus County, a place Lynch has called home since 1995. Although the county generally is viewed as an agricultural community, “The word ‘agricultural’ doesn’t mean that we’re a bunch of farmers,” Lynch says. “It means 650,000 people here in the county that have either direct or indirect linkages to a longstanding agriculturally active economy and tradition.”

Lynch notes that he ​and the Turlock Chamber have raised public awareness of the stakes involved and cautions that the onus of this water challenge is not on just one group of people.

“The issue isn’t just farmers, the issue is the people who live here,” Lynch says. “It’s the kids in our schools, it’s the senior citizens, it’s the whole community that is invested in this, and we have tried to convey that discussion and that perspective to the appropriate policy makers.”

Problems Facing Businesses

Lynch sees two issues as the biggest concerns facing businesses in his region and that contribute to a lack of certainty in the community.

“In our area, it’s water and immigration, bottom line.”

A sustainable groundwater supply is crucial going forward, he argues, and building more dams to address the drought is imperative.

His region also needs comprehensive immigration reform, Lynch states.

“People are desperate to come here,” Lynch says. “And that’s a good thing. We have something here in this unique creation of a secular government and a basic commitment to freedom and equal rights and equal protection under the law that has resulted in an enormous economic engine that drives what has become the wealthiest economy in the world.”

Importance of Advocacy

Lynch views advocacy at the local level as critically important. And his experience tells him that elected officials and legislators are interested in solutions to problems.

“If you’re not at the table, if you’re not engaged, if you’re not explaining the problem, then you don’t even know what they’re doing to you,” Lynch says.

Lynch sees advocacy as a way of vocalizing to legislators how their policies are affecting people and business. If the legislators are not made aware of the effects then they will not know if they are making mistakes with policies or causing a problem, Lynch says. Therefore it is incumbent upon the business community to get involved.

“[A chamber’s] got to be very straightforward and nonpartisan, but that does not mean that it has to be nonpolitical,”

Lynch says. “It should be political. I really believe the chamber has to be involved at all levels of political activity. But it has to be involved in a way that’s credible and that advances the interests of the business and overall communities.”​

Small Business Advocates of the Year

Each year, the California Chamber of Commerce recognizes several small business owners who have done an exceptional job with their local, state and national advocacy efforts on behalf of small businesses.

Honorees are nominated by local chamber of commerce executives. The criteria used in the selection process include taking leadership roles in or working on federal, state or local ballot measures, testifying before the state Legislature and representing a local chamber of commerce before local government. ​

More details and past winners are listed on the CalChamber Small Business Advocate of the Year Award page.​

Mark Dwight

Mark Dwight: Small Business Advocate of Year Award: SF Entrepreneur Gets Involved to Promote Change in Community

MarkDwight-FabricBackground300 “When I was a young professional working in tech companies in Silicon Valley, it never occurred to me to get involved in local government,” says Mark Dwight, founder and owner of Rickshaw Bagworks.

“I didn’t know anything about the chamber of commerce, I didn’t know anything about my local government supervisors, and I didn’t have any notion that there was legislation that might affect business.”

Dwight, a 2014 recipient of the California Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advocate of the Year Award, gained a new perspective upon going into business, first as CEO and part-owner of local bag-maker Timbuk2 Designs (2002–2006), and eventually as founder and sole owner of Rickshaw Bagworks in 2007.

Getting Involved

“I learned that what goes on at City Hall can affect my business and my bottom line, so it became clear to me that I needed to get involved,” Dwight says. “Owning my own business, starting my own company here at Rickshaw, and ultimately being the only owner here really became my platform for not only community engagement, but also civic engagement.”

At Rickshaw, Dwight oversees a team of 30 in operations and production who manufacture and sell custom messenger bags, backpacks, tote bags and assorted accessories. The business, located in the Dogpatch district of San Francisco, is open seven days a week, and Dwight often refers to Rickshaw as living at the intersection of bags and bikes, as much of its clientele are urban commuters and cyclists.

The Bay Area native worked for 20 years for high tech companies in Silicon Valley, including a four-year stint (1997–2001) at Cisco Systems before embarking on his own business endeavors.

Community Roles

Dwight’s current business community roles include being on the San Francisco Small Business Commission, the Board of Directors at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and a member of Potrero Hill Dogpatch Merchant Association.

In addition, Dwight’s innovative, business-minded perspective led to him founding SFMade, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that focuses on building, developing and promoting the local manufacturing sector in San Francisco.

In 2004, he was recommended to a volunteer committee at City Hall, then in 2012, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee named Dwight to the Small Business Commission, where he continues crusading for the needs of small businesses and micro-manufacturers.

“I think there’s a shortage of people that really get involved,” Dwight says. “There are lots of people who love to talk on the sidelines after decisions are made and talk about how it should have been different or how nobody at City Hall is listening to them or nobody knows what’s going on, but those people are not at the table when those decisions are being made.”

Small Business Advocacy

Dwight exudes a strong enthusiasm for his work and advocacy, and is quick to point out that there is an important call to action for small business owners.

“If you don’t have a small business advocacy group, then start one,” Dwight says. “If you do have one, join it, whether it’s a small business network or the chamber of commerce. Join a business organization in your city where leaders and businesses are getting together to discuss the important issues and then advocate on behalf of business at City Hall, locally, at the state level, and at the national level.”

‘Keep Working at It’

Dwight says advocacy makes a difference, even though it can be hard to see progress in a given moment.

“I’ve just been through this big long debate about minimum wage in San Francisco, and honestly, the outcome has been one that doesn’t really reflect all of the requests that were made by small business,” Dwight says. “So there’s a lot of angst about that right now, but the outcome is better than what might have happened. So sometimes it’just incremental change, and you can’t really see it in the moment, but you’ve gotta have faith and you’gotta keep working at it.”

San Francisco businesses were faced with the prospect of competing ballot measures to increase the minimum wage, with the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) backing a measure to increase the local minimum wage from $10.74 to $15 an hour over several years. (The current state minimum wage is $9 an hour.)

Dwight says Mayor Lee and others were able to convince SEIU to drop its proposed measure, allowing a single measure with a more reasonable four-year timeline for the increase.

Challenges

Doing business in San Francisco is a challenge, Dwight acknowledges.

“We have the highest minimum wage in the country,” Dwight says. “We have mandated PTO [paid time off]. We have onerous taxes and regulations. Not to mention one of the most expensive real estate environments in the country. So all of those things added together make San Francisco the most expensive, if not the most hostile city in the United States for small business.”

Micro-Manufacturing Renaissance

Nonetheless, Dwight’strong, entrepreneurial spirit keeps him hopeful for the future.

“What I’m encouraged by is the renaissance in micro-manufacturing and the use of technology and the use of marketing and innovative business tactics to carve out niches in manufactured goods,” Dwight says. “I think there’s something important about making stuff. It’s a classic American notion of self-reliance.”

Dwight takes pride in his efforts to bring manufacturing back to the city.

“I’ve just been thrilled to make a contribution,” Dwight says. “It’s a worthwhile endeavor, that’s for sure.”​​​​​​​

Small Business Advocates of the Year

Each year, the California Chamber of Commerce recognizes several small business owners who have done an exceptional job with their local, state and national advocacy efforts on behalf of small businesses.

Honorees are nominated by local chamber of commerce executives. The criteria used in the selection process include taking leadership roles in or working on federal, state or local ballot measures, testifying before the state Legislature and representing a local chamber of commerce before local government. ​

More details and past winners are listed on the CalChamber Small Business Advocate of the Year Award page.​