Jeri Hansen Leads Napa Chamber
By Kathleen Reynolds
The territory is familiar as Jeri Hansen steps into the role of the Napa Chamber of Commerce President/CEO.
“Between working on committees, including the Business-Agriculture Committee and the Legislative Action Committee (now the Government Affairs Committee), serving on the Board of Directors and being its Chair in 2007, I’ve worked with the Napa Chamber for 20 years,” says Jeri. “I am invested in the Chamber and believe strongly in its mission.”
Hansen feels that one area where the Chamber can shine is in advocacy work.
“As CEO I want to continue to strengthen the role the Napa Chamber of Commerce as the collective voice of the business community.
By that, I mean our Board and members will work with community leaders and stakeholders to be a part of solving problems, finding solutions, and creating opportunities, We will continue to be engaged and involved so that we don’t just respond to issues but help shape them.”
“Chambers of Commerce can be the home base for economic and community development. Our community’s key issues: infrastructure, housing, environment, workforce, are all part of economic development. The Chamber can help build a strong and diverse local economy, one that is custom tailored to our community.”
“For us, the approach to economic development is intentionally attracting and retaining businesses and sectors that are a good fit for our community. And by working with policymakers and regulatory agencies to create an environment that will allow those businesses to be successful.”
“Also, we want to revive the spirit of camaraderie that the Napa Chamber of Commerce is known for,” continues Jeri. “The Chamber is engaged in public policy, but we also create camaraderie and forge strength through our personal connections and business goals. People come together, learn together and have fun doing it.”
In the changing business climate, she knows there are struggles.
“One challenge will be to balance potentially competing priorities – those that are ongoing and those that crop up and need a more immediate response. But I will be working with our Board of Directors to prioritize our opportunities by being focused, thoughtful and deliberate about goals. Over the last few years issues in our business community have changed, evolved and won’t be going back to the way they were. How do we adapt to that in functional and healthy ways? How do we respond to new ways of working and look at it with fresh eyes? It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity.”
She says small businesses fit perfectly into that.
“Small businesses here in Napa are the catalyst to and contain the inner workings of commerce; they are singularly valuable and important, but collectively, they are the silent strength of our community. They are the job creators; the economic diversity and vitality measure that show our community is doing well. Small businesses are the incubators for new ideas and approaches. They’re the source of on-the-job training and first jobs. They are our neighbors; the employees are our neighbors and the customers are neighbors.”
Q: What does the Chamber offer to business?
“We are the go-to resource for education and knowledge; we empower you to help your businesses to succeed,” Jeri says. “We provide the connection to tools and resources. We can often spot emerging trends and preemptively get ahead of issues. I want to listen to what our business community needs and how the Chamber can help. We also offer opportunities for information sharing, conversation and relationship building for business owners so they are learning from one another.”
Q: What does she feel is the biggest misconception about the Chamber?
“That all we do is mixers, now called Business After Hours, and ribbon cuttings. While those are visible and important elements in what we do, the Chamber has so much more depth and breadth than just social. We do celebrate new business and make sure they get the support they need through our toolbox for resources, information and people who can help. Programs like our Chamber Ambassadors are key to member engagement and our first line of information about the community. We are not just social, but connect businesses to education, advocacy and engagement in our community.”
Hansen has new programs and ideas to consider.
“We will continue to provide education and information to our members. For example, our Labor Law workshops start in January when employment bills are starting to take effect, so businesses are aware of new labor laws and regulations. We have Leads Over Lunch every other month where attendees have an opportunity to share what they do and hear featured speakers on topics of interest. Members get to network and gain knowledge of what’s going on in the community.”
“I’ll also be looking for information on certain sectors—such as restaurants, retail, healthcare or tasting rooms—focused on issues that these sectors are dealing with specifically and pull together resources and subject matter experts and speakers who can address those issues. As our new Chair of the Board, Christi Coors Ficeli, told me when I first started the position– ‘Everything is on the table.’ So we have an opportunity to refresh what we already do if necessary, and revisit our successful programs from the past like our Economic Outlook conference, for example. Using the lens of what’s changing on a macro-level and how it will affect our business community on a micro-level. And how do we, as the Chamber, adapt and respond so we bring value.”
“We’ve learned that there is an acceptance and an appetite for on-demand information and resources. There are times when people are interested in a topic but can’t get to the seminar or program, so we can use technology to get the information to them. On-demand could be videos of workshops, webinars—or anything—with the ease of technology. Through this we can expand our reach to members and meet them where they are. Maybe it’s in a conference room, but they can access information on another day or time that suits their schedules.”
Q: There are so many challenges to business today, what does she see as the biggest?
“Labor and the workforce are big. I keep hearing people ask, ‘where’d the employees go and are they ever coming back?’ We need to have conversations around how to adapt to this labor shortage and new labor reality. We will also continue to work with local government to represent the voice of business concerning regulations and policies so that rules are clear and processes aren’t unintended barriers.”
She says there are a few things the Napa Chamber of Commerce members can expect this year.
“For the first several months especially, I plan to listen and learn. I can promise transparency, openness and curiosity. I want to know, as a member organization, what are the opportunities, what’s keeping you up at nighr? What is our value and how can we help? I always want that feedback loop. What is a day in the life of your business and how can we make it easier? How can we give you a break? Plus, I want to make it fun. We can take our work seriously, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. We are an organization made up of businesses, yes, but at the heart is that we are an organization made up of people.”
Sounds like the Chamber is in capable hands.