When the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce last month announced it would expand its reach and reinvent itself as the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, the news was met with a mix of reactions, primarily skepticism and confusion from other chambers.
And at least two of those chambers in Silicon Valley told San José Spotlight they aren’t jumping on board with the expansion.
At the heart of the change, the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, once dedicated solely to Santa Clara, aims to create a regional body to help advocate for businesses in smaller Silicon Valley cities surrounding San Jose. But the details got lost in the buzz and not every chamber got a heads up ahead of the June 14 announcement and some questioned whether the newly-rebranded Santa Clara chamber will compete with smaller chambers, cut into their cities and poach their business clients.
“It’s just not clear exactly what it is,” Jim Griffith, a longtime leader in the city of Sunnyvale, said succinctly in the days following the launch.
Griffith is a former Sunnyvale mayor and councilmember and has served on a long list of local advisory boards and commissions in the county over the past decade. He said Santa Clara generally has a reputation of being an “insular” city, which may add to some of the skepticism as its chamber pushes for a more regional approach.
“If there is an effort to get the chambers to work collaboratively on issues where they have common goals, that’s a fine thing,” Griffith added. “If it’s an effort by Santa Clara to start sucking up businesses in other cities, I think that is going to go over like a lead balloon.”
Silicon Valley Central Chamber President Nick Kaspar fielded a few surprised calls from Silicon Valley area chambers trying to get more details and clarity as he worked to launch the new effort last month. As chamber leaders from South Bay cities sounded off on the announcement, Kaspar expanded on his vision with San José Spotlight, explaining the structure change he’s proposing and how it may — or may not — affect other chambers.
One point he wanted to make abundantly clear is that the new Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce comes in peace.
“We are not going into different cities and taking over any of their members,” Kaspar said. “It would be completely up to the chamber of commerce if they want to work with us or not.”
Under its new structure, Silicon Valley Central would emulate the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce, which made a similar shift only a few years ago.
Essentially, the group would create a regional management structure that would handle much of the administrative duties that all chambers need. Participating cities would be represented by a local business council within the organization.
“The local business council would be within the chamber, but they would be responsible for their city,” Kaspar explained.
So far, the group has reached out to a couple of chambers to start the discussion, but hasn’t locked in any partner cities yet, Kaspar said in an interview late last month, noting the chamber is “looking to start small and grow it to be something great.”
The more, the merrier?
But some chambers in the South Bay have already opted to keep their distance.
Among them is Sunnyvale’s chamber of commerce, also known as the Sunnyvale Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. The group’s President and CEO Don Eagleston told this news organization that it only actively recruits members from Sunnyvale.
“It is impossible to represent multiple cities within the region,” Eagleston said in the statement. “All the cities have separate governments, separate planning departments, a separate minimum wage, separate cannabis laws, separate zoning, separate Chambers of Commerce, and separate City Councils.”
After internal discussions, Sunnyvale’s chamber has opted not to join in with the regional approach the Silicon Valley Central Chamber is proposing, he said.
Similarly, Ken Johnson, executive director for the Campbell Chamber of Commerce, told San José Spotlight he “can’t imagine that it would be something we’d be a part of.”
Johnson said no one gave him a heads up before Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce’s announcement, so he was one of the calls to Kaspar seeking clarity following the surprising news.
Initially, he wondered if there would be competition, based on the announcement and the early details that emerged. Now that he’s spoken to Kaspar, he isn’t worried about that.
“I don’t imagine that a chamber would knowingly go and pick off members in other areas when they are in another chamber,” Johnson said. “If nothing else, it is a wakeup call to everybody to be responsive to their own membership and be responsive to their own community.”
San José Spotlight reached out to other chamber leaders from South Bay cities, including Mountain View, Cupertino and Los Gatos, following the announcement, but did not receive a response.
In San Jose, the silicon valley organization — previously known as the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce before also shifting its name and reach to a more regional level in 2017 — says that as the largest chamber in the area, it’ll continue its regional efforts.
The SVO primarily focuses on San Jose, but the group also convenes the Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition meetings every other month, a meeting aimed at helping local chambers work together on larger issues.
“We have a long history of collaborating with all the local chambers, working across jurisdictional boundaries, on important issues that affect business,” Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the SVO, said in a statement. “If this change to the Santa Clara Chamber helps them be more effective in serving the needs of their members, then we wish them all the best.”
Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.