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Carlsbad chamber a key element in history, future of area

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When the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce first banded together in 1923, it represented a population of around 1,500 people. By 1926, the chamber had a membership of nearly 25 percent of the community. This was nearly 30 years before the area would become incorporated as a city.

From the beginning, the people who lived and worked in Carlsbad have taken an active role in its growth and well being, focused on traditional chamber of commerce concerns: smart business and residential development and the promotion and protection of commerce. The enduring commitment and love affair the Carlsbad community has demonstrated was borne from both desire and necessity. The area is one of the most desirable destinations on earth and lures people and business interests from around the world.

Ted Owen

At the same time, the cost of doing business and living in the community has grown. Businesses and residents alike keep aware daily on issues such as globalization that impact employment and the cost of products and services, and the cost of living in general in Carlsbad and its outlying communities. These concerns have changed only slightly from the chamber's 1926 agenda that including tree trimming, distribution of chamber membership signs, opening Kelly Slew to the ocean, and lobbying the U.S. Post Office Department for daily rural route service.

The community must remain vigilant and responsive to maintain its vitality and integrity, and the chamber accepts its role as a major community barometer and voice. It promotes businesses through member services, educational programs, cooperative partnerships and legislative advocacy that balance economic prosperity with quality of life. This has been the chamber's charter over the past 84 years, during which time it has become the second largest chamber of commerce in San Diego County and the 10th largest chamber in California.

Carlsbad today has more than 1,700 businesses, large and small, employing more than 35,000 people, and the chamber speaks for and to them on a daily basis. It has designed a wide variety of business-building programs to help stimulate economic growth. The chamber's annual Business Expo, for example, allows businesses to network and learn about services within the community. This is one of several business referral services that help promote members' services to other members and local residents. In a community filled with small businesses, these kind of programs prove essential to survival.

The chamber also has become a watchdog of sorts for the city of Carlsbad. Recently, the chamber, as the voice of the business community it represents, beseeched the city to study the mix of downtown businesses to consider ways to improve the retail core.

The chamber noted that many cities are allowing denser development in downtown districts to attract residents, improve business and take advantage of existing infrastructure, such as public transportation. Current zoning standards for much of Carlsbad Village limit buildings to a height of 35 feet, with an additional 10-foot allowance for parking. Current standards also restrict residential development to a maximum of 23 units per acre. The chamber has encouraged to city to consider changes that would permit 40 to 50 units per acre in some parts of downtown. A number of current downtown buildings are one and two stories. Allowing landowners to add additional stories may encourage them to rehabilitate existing buildings at their own expense.

The city also has rigid standards on governing the space require between buildings and the property line, and the amount of parking each project must provide. The proposed regulations are designed to ease those standards in some sections of downtown. The goal is to improve business by generating more foot traffic in the city's retail center.

The chamber's action is consistent with its goal of creating, developing and using cutting-edge polices and practices that encourage pro-business legislation and action.

The chamber also has taken an active role as advocate. The organization was instrumental in Legoland California's selection of Carlsbad as it first United States theme park location. The park drew more than 1.6 million visitors in 2006. As part of this continuing development, Grand Pacific Resorts announced plans to build the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort, scheduled to open in 2007. The resort is located adjacent to Legoland. Advocating for the park's construction in Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce meant simultaneous advocating for jobs in the city, which brought in additional residents.

On the political side, the chamber recently spearheaded the "No On Prop E" campaign to assure the protection of land use and development rights in the city. Passage of Proposition E would have permitted the makeover of approximately 300 acres of open space land protected for park, trails and agricultural use.

The chamber also accepts its role of promoting corporate citizenship, which develops mutually beneficial, interactive and trusting relationships between a business enterprise and its many stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, suppliers and nonprofit organizations through the implementation of the company's thoughtful business strategies and operating practices. The chamber serves as conduit among these many parties to assure that the community at large benefits from the presence of the businesses in the area.

Owen is the president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

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