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Five Questions: Ted Owen on Carlsbad’s economic future

23 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ted Owen is the president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, one of the most active chambers in San Diego County

It has 1,600 members, making it the second largest in the county and 10th largest in California. This year, the chamber has held 60 events, with more than 150 planned for the rest of the year – which equates to about one event for each working day.

Owen has previously served as CEO of the Carlsbad Business Journal, the San Diego Business Journal, the district chamber and publisher of ACS Publishing.

He spoke to SDNN, answering these five questions:

1. What do you love most about what you do?

Everything. I’ve been the CEO of four different companies in my lifetime and spent 20 years in the Marines. But I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything in those categories that are as fulfilling as this job.

The essence of this job and this community is that public and private sectors are on the same page. We don’t go to the city with wants and needs that are unattainable, and they don’t make things that are so anti-business that we cannot exist. We have a great relationship.

When you sit down at the table with people that have the same agenda that you do – which is to make the very best community you can make – that’s a good job to have.

2. What is one thing that happened to you that made you decide to pursue what you do?

I think the thing that made me take this job was that it’s a community orientation job versus one that’s a corporate structure, where you have quotas … profit and loss statements, and you have to make a certain amount of money to make the owners happy.

The corporate structure is all about the success of the corporation, whereas this is all about the success of our community.

A profitable nonprofit

We’re a very profitable chamber and it’s fun to not have to worry about a nonprofit not making any money. Some people equate the word “nonprofit” to never making any money; and nonprofit or tax-exempt organization, you can make money, you just have to make it and spend it in the right category.

The difficulty was with our tax-exempt organization budget was that you have to have a zero expense and zero revenue … that’s a balance at the end of the year; whereas in the corporate world, they always want a revenue that is way, way bigger than the expensive number. So it kinda makes a difference

So, because this is working with a community versus a corporation, I find that my bosses are community members. They’re all business leaders in our community. So it’s kinda like being a city manager of Carlsbad in a nonprofit scenario, versus a traditional city manager… running the city and the city council.

Measuring success

We do have a benchmark for maintaining the number of members we have and growing at a reasonable level. We do have to do the zero-balance budget.

But we also have to do community outreach. One of the things they hired me to do was to reach out to the rest of North County and provide leadership where we could as an organization.

One example I can think of is a book we published called “The Small Business Success Guide.” We send that to everyone in San Diego County that takes out a business license.

It’s outreach. It’s not a chamber marketing tool. It’s all about how you can be successful in running a business.

And that particular product is coupled with a success training center we have built inside the chamber, to teach people how to run a business. You don’t have to be a member of our chamber to go through this training.

So I think that’s an example of something that’s different from the profit-and-loss or the number of members you have. It’s all about helping other people be successful.

Personal reasons

One of the reasons I was interested in this job is I’ve always had a penchant for wanting to counsel people on how to run a business. I love working with small-business people who have ideas and new products that they have no concept on how to take to the market, how to find financing.

I get a great deal of satisfaction out of meeting with a person, on a number of occasions, for two to three hours at a time. My biggest satisfaction is … as they leave the chamber and look over their shoulders and wave goodbye, there’s a smile on their face. That’s payment enough for me. We do it for free.

3. What do you worry about in your industry?

I worry about people being able to take a look at the facts presented to them and the media and by social groups and structures and things.

You read enough negative news, you’re gonna start to operate in that environment, you’re gonna believe that’s the way it has to be. Pretty soon, your business is on the rocks and you’re going sideways instead of forward.

If you believe that there is no money to be loaned, you won’t ask for it. If you believe your competitors are going out of business, it’s only a matter of time before you are. If you buy into all those, those things will happen to you.

That’s buying into the fear.

I’m a half-full guy versus half-empty. I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that the word “fear” stands for “false evidence appearing real.”

I’m all about thinking positive about life.

I believe instead of cutting back on my marketing dollars to be competitive against my customers, I would actually increase my marketing dollars in a negative environment. At the end of the day, when the market just turns, you’re ahead by 15 to 20 percent. You’re not out of business.

Quality of life

I worry about the quality of life in the county and in particular Carlsbad. I worry about the quality of life in America, because people tend to be easily swayed in a different direction.

The quality of life is: We want to have a social structure. We want to have a business community.

A lot of times, people attribute us as living in a Utopian society in Carlsbad.

The median cost of housing in the county is $350,000. But in Carlsbad it’s $633,000, down 9 percent from last year. That’s Utopia.

This society that exists in 38 square miles (of Carlsbad) believes that nothing should stand in their way of living the lifestyle they want. This is about finding ways to do them.

It’s easy to fall back and say “Well, woe is me, everybody is in trouble, we must be Xed.” There are a lot of businesses in America that, during this most difficult financial time, are making more money than they ever made in their lives.

4. If you could let people in San Diego know, do or have just one thing, what would that be?

To be grateful that we live in the greatest region in the world, not to take advantage of it, not to be ungrateful, and find a way in which you can grow it and maintain it.

5. What’s your vision for San Diego, by when?

San Diego County is the 37th-largest gross-regional-product-producing entity in the world. California is the sixth.

[The county is projected to have] $170 billion-dollar gross regional product at the end of 2009.
We create more gross regional product than any entity in the United States. We’re the No. 1 largest county in the U.S., believe it or not.

And we’re only a county of 4,300 square miles on the face of earth. There are going to be some cities that are bigger than ours that will grow more. But the county as a whole is one of the top ranking GDP makers in the United States. I don’t believe anybody creates more product than we do, with few exceptions.

So, I would say that we have to start remembering that we’re all those things.

Our vision is to stay on the straight and narrow. The road to success is always under construction, in my opinion. If you stand in place long enough, you’ll get run over the success of everyone else.

My vision for Carlsbad is we complete all the things we have on the drawing board and we continue to find things that’ll add to the quality of life of our state.

Carlsbad city plans

— $50 million in the general fund, with a surplus projected by end 2009
— Built a $70 million golf course in 2007

Plans to build:
— $35 million aquatic park
— $26 million fire and police training facility
— $300 million desalination plant
— $700 million new power plant
— $100 million new high school
— 4,000 new houses
— 12 new hotels

(Source: Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce)

Chamber facts

Number of members: 1,600. It is the second largest chamber in the county and 10th largest in the state.Fiscal independence: It is one of the few chambers that doesn’t accept any money from the city.

Political neutrality: It does not endorse political candidates.

Community event: The chamber hosts the Carlsbad Village Street Faire on the first Sundays of May and November. With more than 100,000 attendees and 900 vendors, it is the largest one-day street fair in the nation.

Newspaper: The chamber publishes the Carlsbad Business Journal each month.

Staff: 10 full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce
5934 Priestly Drive, Carlsbad, CA, 92008
Tel: 760-931-8400

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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