Sharing Stories of Essential Business Role Will Foster Creativity, Build Communities

Donna L. Lucas speaks at the Virtual Host Breakfast on May 13.

Following are remarks presented by Donna L. Lucas, 2021 chair of the California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, at the 95th Annual Virtual Host Breakfast on May 13. Lucas is president and CEO of Lucas Public Affairs, Sacramento.

I’m honored to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors of the California Chamber of Commerce and I’m happy to be with you all this morning.

I’d also like to recognize all the small businesses with us today. You might be surprised to learn — 71% of CalChamber’s members have 100 employees or less. Governor Newsom just proclaimed May as “Small Business Month,” and that’s certainly worth celebrating.

I’ve built three businesses over the last 30 years — all of which center around storytelling.

Over the years, I’ve worked for a president, two governors and many constitutional officers, as well as hundreds of mission-driven organizations, government agencies, and businesses large and small.

Sharing Story Creates Success

And I can’t emphasize enough the value and importance of telling your story. Ultimately, knowing what that story is and sharing it — both inside and outside of your organization — is what creates, and sustains success.

Like the CalChamber, my public affairs firm represents a diverse group of businesses from all sectors of our economy: energy, tourism, entertainment, education, health care, technology, and agriculture.

Like the Chamber, we help businesses tell their unique stories, and in doing so, make it easier for them to navigate California’s complex regulatory and legislative landscapes.

The story of any business isn’t simply the net earnings line at the bottom of a financial statement. The real story is about families achieving their goals. Kids reaching their potential. Building community. Collaboration. Creativity. Inventiveness. Dedication and inclusion.

We provide livelihoods for millions and strengthen communities in every region of this state. We supply goods and services, support nonprofits and charities, and we’re training the next generation of California’s workforce.

These stories. Our stories. Your stories — need to be told so that our value is understood and appreciated.

Difficult Time

As we all know, this is a unique time in our state’s history.

The last 14 months have been especially difficult and, in some cases, devastating for the state’s business community — especially the 4.1 million small businesses — of which about one-third are minority owned.

Many smaller businesses continue to struggle daily to make ends meet. Some have been forced to close the doors on their businesses — and their dreams.

Turning Corner

The good news is we are turning the corner, and the Golden State is coming back.

The CalChamber has played a key role in helping our state’s small business community get back on their feet. As I said earlier, 71% of the CalChamber’s members have 100 or fewer employees. Nearly 20% of the Chamber’s member businesses are owned by women, and more than one-third are minority-owned. This diversity is growing and that makes our state even stronger.

CalChamber Help

During the pandemic, many businesses have turned to CalChamber for help on everything from navigating COVID-19 protocols and regulations to information on PPP loans to managing their now-remote workforce. Our Helpline was literally a lifeline for thousands of California businesses.

For nearly 100 years, the California Chamber of Commerce has been a champion of this state’s innovators, entrepreneurs and problem solvers. The state Chamber amplifies our stories so they can be more easily heard.

Because of the effectiveness of our team, the CalChamber has a 97% success rate in helping members achieve their legislative goals. In the 2020 legislative session, only one of the 19 “job killer” bills made it into law.

Reopening Challenges

Although California is coming back, there are still serious challenges ahead as we work to fully reopen our economy by summer.

The pandemic has devastated California’s vibrant tourism and hospitality industry, costing us more than 500,000 jobs. We need to reinvest in that industry

Drought conditions are always a blow to California agriculture and part of that story is when California farmers suffer, so does the rest of the world, which depends on our fruits, nuts and vegetables. About 95% of California’s farms are family-owned businesses.

Aging power systems throughout the state may continue to plague our communities with rolling blackouts that turn off the switch on consumer spending, force businesses like neighborhood grocery stores and restaurants to close, and leave large manufacturing or technology companies with no option but to shut down — disrupting business and displacing workers.

With California’s economic recovery on its way, now is not the time to further test the resiliency of California businesses with excessive new taxes and regulations that do more harm than good.

Business Voice

If we tell these stories well, then it’s more likely action will be taken to address some of these difficult issues through advanced planning and investment in our infrastructure — both physical and social.

Major employers and small businesses are important voices that legislative members need to hear. Those voices offer a practical perspective on abstract policy issues. And those are the voices of California because one of the greatest things about our businesses is that they reflect our state’s unique diversity.

I would guess, few policymakers have ever signed the front of a paycheck. Do they understand the pressure of bottom lines and profit margins? Or having to meet a payroll? Accommodate the needs of employees and still cover the monthly bills?

I know that if more businesses successfully explain their essential role in fueling the California Dream, there will be more creative thinking about fostering a business climate in which innovation, initiative and entrepreneurship flourish.

Retooling Workforce

One of our greatest challenges — and greatest opportunities — is the retooling of our workforce for the jobs of the future. That requires a partnership with educators, from kindergarten through graduate school.

Companies are already taking aggressive steps to launch apprentice programs, support online learning and engage in creative retention programs for workers at all levels. These are the kinds of actions that help close the opportunity gap and create the kind of open and inclusive workforce needed for success in this century.

University of California President Michael Drake, California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro and Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley all sit on the California Chamber Board. It’s collaboration with them and other education leaders that will help us build this 21st century workforce.

California Leads

Our challenges notwithstanding, California continues to lead every other state in employment in manufacturing, tech, entertainment, biotech, and much more.

Our exports in dairy products, fruits and nuts are greater than any other state. And we’re home to some of the world’s best companies who are pushing the envelope of possibility and inventing a better future.

Now, that’s a pretty compelling story.

We have our challenges. But those challenges will be easier to surmount by working together and ensuring more Californians — especially lawmakers — hear the full and complete story of the real drivers of California’s economy.