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Leadership diversity, focus are keys to Escondido Chamber's effectiveness

At first glance, there's not much that an East Valley Parkway businessman, physical therapist, business attorney and community relations professional have in common. But the fact is, Sam Abed, Jerry Kaufman, Carl Skaja and Linda Bailey, along with 23 other business and civic leaders, share a common vision of a prosperous Escondido as the board of directors for the Escondido Chamber of Commerce.

Abed chairs the Chamber's board of directors during a year in which the 800-member organization hired Bailey as its chief executive officer and began a massive expansion of its role as Escondido's "voice of business."

Former City Councilman Kaufman takes the chairman's reins on July 1. Skaja is expected to succeed Kaufman the following summer.

While the Chamber continues its traditional focuses on economic development, government issues, community development and member services, the tactics have expanded.

This year, it convened two "Good Morning Escondido" business community forums. One featured a discussion of the region's business climate by Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler and Supervisor Pam Slater; the other dealt with the impact good schools have on the local business climate. A third forum on regional economic issues is planned for this spring.

The Chamber's annual Business Showcase has been expanded this year to highlight other community amenities, including a new "Taste of North County" in which attendees can sample menu items from several area restaurants.

Also new this year is the Chamber's Education Committee, headed by Board Member Teri Safranek of Palomar Community College and organized to engage the business community to support local schools.

Membership recruitment and retention has enjoyed renewed vigor as a result of focus group sessions of new and existing members conducted late last year.

"They want us to continue to stand for a strong business community by advocating measures to local and regional governments that protect our businesses," Abed said.

Some things won't change, though. The Chamber's ECHO Foundation raises funds for community charities. Its co-sponsorship of the semi-annual Escondido Street Faire draws many people downtown, and its monthly Business After 5 Mixers offer members special networking opportunities.

All in a day's work for Escondido's "voice of business."

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