As we recently discussed with Congresswoman Judy Chu and Alhambra Councilmember Sasha Renee Perez, businesses and non-profits in the greater San Gabriel Valley have had to overcome the unprecedented fiscal and emotional effects of three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, redistricting after the 2020 census, a fire at the San Gabriel Mission, the murder of a beloved San Gabriel Catholic Bishop, and the devastating effects of the Monterey Park Ballroom shooting.
While Governor Newsom responded to the lobbying efforts by the Monterey Park City Council (and others) for gun safety legislation by signing an array of weapons bills, including taxes on guns and ammo, the legislation might not survive court challenges. The federal government declared Los Angeles County a disaster zone to make SBA Economic Injury and Disaster Loan funds available for the physical and economic damages to businesses. However, access to those funds expires this month.
We spoke with various non-profit and for-profit businesses in the area, including the Executive Director of two non-profits in San Gabriel. Pam Petievich oversees the San Gabriel Valley Historical Association and the Friends of the San Gabriel Library group. She says both groups are struggling with all the challenges but are hopeful for the future.
Partnerships are critical to success
Petievich-led San Gabriel Historical Association recently faced many problems, including administrative compliance issues and the major repair of the Hays House, an historic building the group maintains at the request of the City of San Gabriel. There was also damage from a leaky roof to the museum structure. The damage was assessed and submitted to insurance, but the award was still insufficient. The group had to look for solutions outside the norm.
“After the insurance assessment, we requested $25,000 from the San Gabriel City Council. They awarded that amount and an additional yearly $3,000 for maintenance and upkeep. With the extra funds, we want to do some zero-carbon landscaping in the front to make it really easy to take care of the property,” she said.
“It’s a story of cooperation to overcome the polarization of the pandemic,” says Petievich. “We partnered with the City of San Gabriel and Habitat for Humanity to make the repairs. There’s a resonance of recovery going on in the San Gabriel Valley. We recovered despite all the local community challenges.”
The challenge now is to secure enough volunteers to help with the work in this new recovery phase. As a recent article by Joe Heim in the Washington Post emphasized, many non-profits like those in San Gabriel rely on volunteers. These organizations are finding it harder to engage people who are willing to donate their time.
“Even as the need for help has increased, the number of Americans who formally volunteer has continued to decline, according to reports by the Census Bureau and organizations tracking volunteerism,” says Heim. The number of volunteers in the United States dropped about seven percentage points in that period.
“We have 36 members and seven trustees,” says Petievich. We were shut for COVID for at least 18 months and had other problems before that. We have annual dues, and we have a big fundraising dinner every summer, bimonthly fundraising dinners. We’re still trying to recover, trying to make it livelier and get people more interested. We need new volunteers, and it’s not just us. That’s kind of the way things are going with a lot of groups.”
“We don’t have that many people available to do things. A lot of our members and trustees are older, and they can’t climb on a ladder. We have to get people to help out. We don’t have any way to get out information to the community. We don’t have a convention and visitors bureau. The San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce has tried to be that, but they have their own viability challenges after all the community has been through. And the demographics have changed a lot.”
Re-inventing the Chambers of Commerce
Alexis Salamanca and Tony Chi-su Gutierrez, partners in Ofiso Solutions, LLC, a retail distribution and event-producing company, experienced the catastrophic effects of the ballroom shooting last year during their annual MegaMix Expo, a B2B event designed to connect, strengthen and propel growth amongst the San Gabriel Valley business community.
“We had to give away booths after the shootings,” said Salamanca. “We were ready to deliver unrivaled opportunities for companies to showcase their products and services. Instead, we found ourselves serving in another way to sustain the community. Attendees came to the event to seek consolation with one another. We were deeply moved.”
One year later, the MegaMix Expo has rebounded, uniting 27 chambers of commerce and business associations in the area to bolster the economic impact of recent events.
“Our next event is February 8, 2024, at Santa Anita Park Club House,” says Gutierrez. “It’s a great way to network with fellow professionals, engage in enlightening workshops, and let the community know we’re back.”
The event’s reach is broad, with participation spanning diverse sectors from manufacturing to tech and a vast range of Chambers and impactful groups like the Arcadia Chamber, BNI, Los Angeles Latino Chamber, United States International Chamber, and Asian Chambers and Business Organizations involved.
“Yes, the demographics have changed, so we are reflecting the incredible diversity that fuels commerce across the San Gabriel Valley,” said Salamanca. “By bringing together the rich diversity that drives entrepreneurship and economic growth across our region, we embrace business leaders from all racial and ethnic backgrounds while highlighting groups that empower vibrant minority-owned enterprises. But most importantly, engaging so many businesses also offers an opportunity to heal.”
“We felt the need to create a unifying space for all visionaries in all markets to connect, learn, and lift each other higher,” says Gutierrez. “We even formed our own Ofiso Community Foundation nonprofit to help exhibitors.”
Information about the day-long event can be found at www.megamixexpo.com.