Tuesday , June 18 2024
Karen Gaffney
Karen Gaffney

New Chamber Leader Sets Ambitious Goals

Karen Gaffney, new head of the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce, wants to host more events and develop an open relationship with the city’s business community. This is her third chamber position, and Gaffney believes she can accomplish more in Rancho Cucamonga than she did in her previous jobs.

On Feb. 17, Karen Gaffney took over as executive director of the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce.

As the saying goes, it’s not her first rodeo.

Gaffney left the San Dimas Chamber of Commerce, where she was president and chief executive officer for five years, to take the job at Rancho Cucamonga.

That was her second chamber position. From 1998 to 2008, Gaffney was executive director of the Highland Chamber of Commerce.

Gaffney, a Rialto native, has plenty of experience in the business world: she worked in sales management and sales training with Circuit City, the consumer electronics chain that shut down in 2009, and she was marketing and e-commerce coordinator for San Bernardino-based Arrowhead Credit Union.

She also spent 12 years running two custom car stereo stores with her husband John, who is now a sergeant with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

“I have experience running a business, and I think that’s crucial if you’re going to be in charge of a chamber of commerce,” Gaffney, 50, said. “You have to able to see things from that perspective.”

Given her choice between the business world and running a chamber of commerce, Gaffney leaves no doubt which she prefers.

“I absolutely love chamber work,” she says. “A chamber of commerce is about helping businesses grow, about getting out in the community and meeting with people and figuring out what needs to be done. There’s a lot of networking, and I love doing that.”

Much is expected of Gaffney as she assumes control of the Rancho Chamber, said Maribel Brown, the organization’s president and board chair.

“We want our chamber to be the one that everyone in the Inland Empire talks about,” Brown said. “We want people to talk about how much networking we do, how much money we raise and how many events we hold, and we believe Karen can give us that. Of all the people we interviewed she was the only one with exactly the background we were looking for.”

Gaffney spoke with IE Business Daily recently about why she accepted the Rancho Cucamonga chamber job, what she hopes to achieve there and why it can be difficult counseling someone who wants to start their first business.

Q: Why did you decide to leave the San Dimas chamber for Rancho Cucamonga?

A: I wanted to work with a bigger chamber, and I wanted to work in a growing city. San Dimas is built out, but there’s a lot going on in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s one of the “go-to” communities in the Inland Empire. It seemed like the perfect platform.

Q: Getting adjusted to any new job is difficult. How are things going so far?

A: Very good, but I’m still trying to get acquainted with people and get my office organized. I promised my husband I wouldn’t work 18 to 20 hour days, and so far it hasn’t been too bad. I am enjoying it.

Q: How did you first get into chamber of commerce work?

A: It happened out of the blue. Larry Brown, who eventually became a city council member in Highland, recommended me for the Highland chamber job. I go it, and I liked it right of way.

Q: Was there a moment when you knew you were better-suited for chamber work, as opposed to working at a regular business?

A: Yes, when I was with Arrowhead Credit Union. I had been with the Highland Chamber before that, and one day I realized I missed it and wanted to get back into it. Even though Highland was landlocked and you were kind of limited in what you could get done there, I knew I still wanted to work for a chamber.

Q: What are you trying to accomplish in the short term, say in the next year or two?

A:  That’s a little difficult to say because I’m just getting started, but I would like to see us hold more events. I would like to hold a business forum and a manufacturing forum. Every city wants to get manufacturing jobs, and we’re no different. I think we could hold a forum of CEO’s, and we could do more with workforce development to make sure our businesses are getting the kind of employees they need. I’m sure we can work with a lot of government agencies.

Q: Do you think that Rancho Cucamonga is a business-friendly city?

A: Yes, it has to be. It never would have grown like it has if it was a difficult place for developers. They never would have come here in the first place.

Q: Exactly what is a chamber of commerce supposed to accomplish?

A: The idea is always to create a more business-friendly community, but they all function a little different. In San Dimas, because there wasn’t a lot of open space, we were always working on infill projects. In Highland, one of the big things was to go to the ICSC [International Council of Shopping Centers] convention every year and try to find retailers.

Q: How would you describe your management style?

A: I would say I’m a delegator. You have to be, because one person can never do everything that needs to be done. Everyone has to do their job if you’re going to succeed.

Q: Do you deal with people who want to start a business?

A: All the time. People who have never owned or run a business want to spend their life savings to start something, and they have no idea how to do that. They don’t even have a business plan, but they know they want to start their own business. Sometimes you have to tell them that’s probably not a good idea, and that can be difficult.

Q: Is there an overall theme to what you’re trying to do?

A: I’m looking for a more open operation, where people who want to start or grow a business can come to us because they know they will get help. They know the door will always be open.

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