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Benefits of joining Ceres Chamber of Commerce are great
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Renee Ledbetter, the 2014 Ceres Chamber of Commerce president. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

During the past few months, I've had the pleasure to meet with local business owners and operators to share the new direction that the Ceres Chamber of Commerce is headed in over the next few years.

Of course during these meetings, my objective is to encourage these businesses to either join the Chamber or renew their Chamber membership, but my overall goal is to see how the Chamber can help them with their business.

During one of my pleas to a business manager I spoke to about joining the Chamber, he asked "What's in it for me?"

As I explained, the Chamber's mission to drive economic development, help revitalize downtown, and to advocate and promote our businesses to strengthen our local economy, I started thinking he's not the first person to ask me this and he surely won't be the last.

So as president -elect of the Chamber, I decided to share my vision with the community of what we can do as a Chamber, with the right people and the right mindset.

When I joined the Chamber Board two years ago, I questioned what the benefit was of being a Chamber member. The occasional mixer or ribbon cutting and the plaques business operators hung on their walls identifying them as Chamber members seemed to be the extent of member benefits. From that point on the board was on a mission.

Under the direction of current President Dustin Pack, the board set out to devise a business plan which we completed in 2012. We had a lot to do: Our bylaws needed updating and we didn't really have a defined mission or was like trying to get from Point A to Point B without a road map. Our membership was flailing because money was already tight for business owners and they just couldn't see spending any money for mixers and plaques. Our website was not very helpful. And our coffers were weak.

We've spent a lot of time getting our "house" in order. I'm very proud of our board, the work we've accomplished, and I'm grateful for the time they've spent to help re-form the Chamber. I'm very proud of Dustin's leadership in keeping us moving forward.

Over the past few months, our new website has gone live; we've established committees in the areas of Economic Development, Legislative and Government Affairs, Finance, Community Events, and Marketing & Membership, to name just a few; we've enhanced our Ambassador Program to welcome new businesses in town, help with membership and to gauge the pulse of existing business owners to see how the Chamber can help them grow their business.

We've restructured our membership fees in tiers and have defined benefits for each membership level. As a result of this, I'm happy to report that membership is slowly increasing because business operators finally see in writing the value they get for their money.

We're currently planning to add events in Ceres that will help spark the local economy in the areas of travel and tourism. Yes, we have our annual Ceres Street Faire, but it's time to step up our game and capitalize in other ways. I am very excited about this and more news will come at our annual Installation and Awards Dinner in January on this topic.

We're in the process of accepting new board applications to fill upcoming vacancies. This is probably one of the most important changes impacting the future of the Chamber. The goal is to reach out to business owners, captains of industry and individuals who have a desire to see our city grow in a smart fashion, are able to address issues that impact our local economy and challenges that face our business community, and are willing to commit to a positive re-shaping of Ceres.

It's time to shift our mindset from wondering whose hosting the next mixer to how immigration reform is going to affect our agricultural industry and the impact it will have, not only at the federal and state, but at the local level. How will it impact the local employers in our wine, almond, olive and peach industries? What impact will it have on consumers buying the end products?

If legislation is passed to increase weight limits on trucks traveling down California highways, how is that going to impact our roadways, railways and taxes?

Should Ceres voters unanimously approve a Transient Occupancy Tax in 2015? You bet we should. People traveling through our communities and staying in our hotels should pay that tax for using our water, sewer and roadways. Local residents don't pay this tax, unless, of course, you are staying at one of our hotels/motels. Many California cities impose this tax, we should too!

Recently, we've renewed talks about revitalizing our downtown. Do you realize that we are one of the few cities in California whose freeway exits spill right into our downtown? Okay, so redevelopment funds are gone. It's time to go out and find private investment dollars to do what we need to do. We've even moved the Chamber office to a very small space on Fourth Street to show our commitment to revitalizing our downtown.

My vision for downtown: Boutique-style clothing shops and eateries; perhaps a few wine tasting shops promoting our local wineries - Bronco and Gallo; shops selling our local fruits and nuts; olive oil and wine vinegar shops; and a bakery for locals to gather for coffee. I'm putting my vision out there in the universe.

The Chamber will be working aggressively with the Stanislaus County Alliance and the city of Ceres to spark economic development interest throughout Ceres, not only downtown.

All this said in order to make these changes in our Chamber we need help from our community.

To effectively advocate for and promote our business community we need support from our business community in the form of memberships. Currently, this is primarily how the Chamber sustains itself.

To effectively lead our community with a renewed direction of smart growth, a stronger economy and workforce, and to stay informed of legislation that impacts our businesses, we need key player sitting on the Chamber's Board of Directors.

To effectively provide events and activities that can increase sales for our businesses, contribute sales taxes to our city coffers, and generate revenue for the Chamber we need our Chamber members to be involved in sitting on committees to establish such events.

To effectively re-shape Ceres for the betterment of all, we need everyone participating in discussions at Town Hall meetings and workshops and attending networking events that show your support of our local businesses.

I hope this encourages you to get involved and shows you exactly "What's in it for you" should you decide to be a part of the process instead of part of the problem.
To learn more about the Chamber visit us online at You can reach the Chamber at (209) 537-2601 or visit us at 2938-A Fourth Street in downtown Ceres.