May 5, 2004 - From the Dec., 2002/Jan., 2003 issue

L.A. Chamber CEO Rusty Hammer Looks Ahead To New Year & TEA-21 Re-Authorization

In 2002, the LA Area Chamber of Commerce assumed a leading role in the campaign against Valley secession in an effort to maintain a stable and attractive business environment. In 2003, the Chamber is turning much of its attention to infrastructure. MIR is pleased to present this interiview with LA Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rusty Hammer in which he discusses the Chamber's involvement in issues of infrastructure planning and development as well as the Chamber's agenda for the coming year.

Rusty Hammer

Let's start with an encapsulation of the Chamber as it ends 2002 and goes into 2003. What's on the agenda, how healthy is the organization and where are you trying to go?

The Chamber is healthy from a variety of perspectives. It ends the year 2002 with an increase in membership over 2001, which is the first membership increase in ten years. That's a positive signal, especially occurring in a year when the economy wasn't doing as well as it had in previous years. The increase is attributable to a number of things. A large part of it is the changes we've made in the past year, principally in trying to be a relevant voice and an active voice on public policy matters, as well as some things that we have done to improve the value of membership in the Chamber.

What will be on the agenda in 2003?

There will be a number of things you'll see from us, many of which began in 2002. First of all, as people know, we were very active in secession in 2002. But, things are not over simply because the ballots have been cast. A major effort that we will be undertaking will be really looking at the entire issue of the business climate in Los Angeles and how, across a wide spectrum, we can improve the business climate-from business taxes and regulatory issues to a number of other issues. These initiatives will not be confined solely to what the city can do, but we will examine what the county and other stakeholders can do as well.

A second thing you will see from us again, and as a part of secession, is involvement in the discussions of governance issues that the city will be looking at as well as how to improve services in the city. Another issue that will be a major part of our priorities for next year also comes on the heels of the election and that is that we were the principal business organization that came out in favor of Measure B, which was the trauma center emergency room measure to keep those facilities open. Once we took that action, which was quite unexpected by a lot of people, a lot of other business organizations followed suit.

Following on the heels of that will be the issuance early in the first quarter of 2003 of a white paper we've been working on for the past nine months. This paper is going to focus on the status of health care in Los Angeles County and we'll include a series of policy recommendations on how we can deal with the crisis and health care from a policy point of view and also how we deal with it from the perspective of the rising cost of business.

A third thing will also be a result of 2002 and that will be the follow-up of Mobility 21, our successful summit that we conducted with the MTA and that will be the birth of the Mobility 21 coalition and the bringing together of that coalition to travel to Sacramento and Washington to advocate transportation priorities for Los Angeles.

You will see a continuing emphasis on the Chamber focusing on specific industries that are important to our economy through the creation of industry councils. We already have a Business Advisory Council for small business, a Technology Council, a Construction and Architectural Industry Council and a Public Policy Council. Expect to see us developing additional councils in entertainment and other key areas.

Our highly successful, and award winning weekly Business Perspective, that comments on important political and business issues, will continue to position the Chamber as a leading opinion leader.

And finally, you will see an ever increasingly prestigious and diverse Board. With the recent additions of people like Liam McGee, Danny Villanueva, Tim Leiweke, Bob Hertzberg, Kathleen Brown, Ed Avila, and David Abel-as well as many others-you will see growing influence and diversity as a part of our Board.

Let's scroll down and talk about the Mobility 21 Conference. What's your assessment of what happened there and the ramifications and opportunities that grow out of that event?

I was very pleased with it. I remember when Roger Snoble and I got together in March of this year we talked about this concept and we shopped it to a few people, and they said you'll never get people to come together and you'll never get the elected officials to want to talk and to work together, on something like this, and how do you pull the Valley and the city and the people from downtown together? Roger and I both said that we're new to Los Angeles and we're probably too new and naïve to know better so we'll give it a shot. That's what we did and we were extremely pleased with the participation at the conference and the fact that every member of our congressional and state legislative delegation put their names on the conference. Some of them actually were able to attend despite the poor timing of the conference. We got business representatives from all over Los Angeles County and transit providers.

We've set in place a real opportunity for those of us interested in improving transportation here to come together and unite around priorities and to lobby as one voice in Sacramento and Washington. It's clear to me and has been clear to me since I've been here, that LA's inability to talk as one voice-and I'm not talking about the city here, I'm talking about the region-and it's tendency to lobby against each other around the region means that other places in the country are getting money and getting projects that we should be receiving.

We have an excellent opportunity through this coalition. This coalition is not just a business coalition, it's not an elected officials coalition, this will be business, elected officials, transit riders, labor, community organization, transit providers, you name it, all coming together to say, ‘we need to solve this problem and we need to get our fair share of the money.'

Elaborate on what's at stake for Los Angeles re transportation. Why must the region speak with one voice to Washington?


The reauthorization of TEA-21 will set in place a funding mechanism that we'll be living with for a period of time, probably for six years. That creates an opportunity for us to go back united and get earmarked for very specific projects.

When you look around the country at places that are successful, they convinced the congress that there are projects in their region that are so significant that they should be funded around the typical kind of funding mechanisms. That was the case with Alameda Corridor, the Big Dig in Boston, and a lot of other projects. If we can highlight the importance of transportation to the future of Los Angeles, and also to the nation's economy, then we stand a good chance-if we speak united-to get our congressional delegation to work on some significant earmarks in addition to what we could get in the formula grants.

Rusty, water is back on the front pages of our newspapers because of the vote of the Imperial Irrigation District rejecting the negotiated compromise on use of water from the Colorado River. Given this attention, what's the Chamber's likely involvement with the water issue going forward?

The Chamber was very involved in the November election cycle. When I was talking earlier about what we did, I didn't talk about Prop 50. But we were the first business organization in this area to support Prop 50 and played a huge role in making sure that the California Chamber did not come out in opposition to Prop 50. There was some concern that they might come out in opposition. We felt that it was important for Southern California that Prop 50 pass so that we could keep Cal Fed funding going because we knew that was the only place the money would come from. We lobbied in Washington on the federal legislation on Cal Fed and we'll do that again next year. We're also thinking about developing a water foundation that will conduct water education for our elected officials at the federal, state, and city levels. We don't think that our elected officials really understand the water issue from a Southern California perspective. We're going to work on those things.

We're very pleased, as an example, that Bob Hertzberg, who as everyone knows has been very involved in this issue and is a real expert, has joined our board. He brings a lot of content and a lot of expertise to the Chamber's water efforts. Water, along with transportation and health care, is one of the principal things you'll see us working on in the next year.

Rusty, recently Neil Peirce wrote a column for the Washington Post Writers Group entitled, "Regional Business Leadership: The Absentocracy Dilemma" in which he lamented the absence of the involvement at the regional level of the businesses that are so essential to be a partnership in shaping the regions. Is that a problem for Southern California? Has he captured something that needs to be addressed?

It's a problem for Southern California and it's a problem for the country. What we've seen over the past many years is that business has changed. At one time, large companies used to have executives whose job it was to engage in regional issues and in public policy issues and to be the principal people that were engaged in their communities and regions – those positions no longer exist. It's now the responsibility of someone along with ten or fifteen other things they do. With that, there has been a retrenchment, not so much in the funding, because money is still available, but in the civic engagement of people.

The Chamber has been working on its strategic plan. As we unveil that in the first quarter of the next year, one of the key issues will be how do we more broadly engage civic leadership? How do we get businesses to recommit some of their people to becoming engaged in the leadership fabric of the region? The Chamber needs to be more active in engaging business in civic leadership. It is a problem and it's something we're going to want to work on. Without business leadership and involvement, the regional leadership will default to other people. We need to find ways to reengage with the business community.

Why don't you elaborate a little more on leadership within the Chamber?

For the Chamber, the reinvigoration of the organization that began over a year ago is continuing and is bringing a lot of people back to the table-people who, over a period of time, have felt the Chamber had not been as effective or as aggressive. But the other piece of it that's as important or more important, is that the Chamber is really beginning to reach out in brand new ways to parts of the community and region that have not been engaged before.

As an example, one of the things we have done in the past year is place the principal ethnic business organizations on the Chamber's board. We recognize that we can have policy debates about the future of Los Angeles, but those debates don't ring completely accurate if we don't hear from the ethnic business leadership in our region. Not only are we putting those organizations on our board, but we're taking a very active role in seeking ethnic business leaders to serve on our board.

We've also added other chambers of commerce in our region, about half a dozen of them, to our board because not only is our board important, but the voice of the entire region is important. We've gone out to the technology sector that traditionally has not been involved. We're also recruiting members from the entertainment sector that have not typically been involved, and we're really trying to broaden the scope of leadership of the Chamber from what typically has been service providers and others to a much broader and diverse group of business leaders.

How should our readers assess the Chamber's success a year from now, Rusty?

The way you assess success a year from now is to continue to look at public policy initiatives that we've developed, and to see where we are with the formation of Mobility 21 and measure how effective we've been in pulling that coalition together to lobby in Washington and in Sacramento. Look to the results of our health care white paper, look at the membership levels within the Chamber to see that it's growing. We're going to be announcing very soon the formation of a county-wide chamber coalition, an advocacy coalition that will bring together all the chambers in Los Angeles County. Rather than speaking for the few thousand members or so that we may have individually, we'll speak for tens of thousands of businesses, so look to those kinds of initiatives and that's where you'll see our success.


© 2023 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.