As Benicians, we’re all mostly familiar with the storefronts and businesses on First Street.
We notice when a new business pops up, or an old favorite sadly vacates. But one First Street presence that has remained unchanged for many years, in fact, for this writer’s entire life and then some, is Benicia’s Chamber of Commerce. You’ve passed by it numerous times, nestled into the corner of 601 First. It went dormant during the Covid chill, but now it’s back and ready to embrace the future.
Chambers of commerce have existed since the 16th century. Their primary function is to advocate on behalf of local businesses and be a resource for business owners. These days, chambers are typically formed as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, require membership, and are backed by a board of directors. Far from being merely a relic of the Middle Ages, chambers of commerce still perform an important role, especially in small communities, like ours.
Benicia’s Chamber of Commerce recently hired Madeline DeNofio as its new Membership and Marketing Coordinator. We had the opportunity to speak with her and Board Chair, Chris Ferrucci about the future of the Chamber. They outlined a three-pillar structure for what the Chamber provides its members: advocacy, business resources, and community.
“Advocacy means we help cultivate your relationship with the local government. We help you understand what’s going on at a government level and advocate at City Council meetings on behalf of our members. We can be a mouthpiece for our members and as a chamber with so many members, we carry more weight and a more concise, more effective message,” said Madeline.
Business resources include the Chamber newsletter, which breaks down crucial government affairs so that businesses can stay informed about what is pertinent to them. The Chamber is also creating PR resources for common issues that Benicia businesses are facing and is introducing a new Women in Business hour, which takes place the third Monday of the month and is open to both members and non-members.
To aid in building business community connections, the Chamber is looking forward to once again hosting mixers and other such networking events.
“A lot of business is still done face to face and so networking is very important. Finding out what other businesses are operating in your community and finding out what opportunities exist for you as a business,” said Madeline. The first mixer of the year will take place in October. Additionally, the many subcommittees under the Chamber specialize in various industries and subsections of the business community, providing support at a more nuanced level.
Benicia’s chamber is made up of an equal representation of small business and larger companies, such as those in the Industrial Park. “A lot of the Benician economy is carried by the Industrial Park, so we want to raise awareness of that and make sure the people out in the Industrial Park feel integrated with the Benicia community,” said Madeline. To best support the Industrial Park, the Benicia Industrial Park Association (BIPA) has been regrouping following the effects of Covid. BIPA is a board of trustees from Industrial Park Businesses within the Chamber who meet to advocate for and advance the interest of the Industrial Park. BIPA is a division of the Chamber with additional membership requirements, allowing it to benefit from the Chamber’s existing nonprofit and community status.
Previously, the Chamber had been using a relatively short-term planning process for how it could benefit local business.
Now, the focus is on the long-term; identifying how it can support businesses today and help them navigate into the future. The Chamber is also looking to make their offices more future facing with a website revamp and plans to renovate their interior, updating their capacities so they can rent out their conference room to members for meetings, presentations, and the like.
After reemerging from the lockdown era of Covid, Chris said of the Chamber, “We needed direction; something to reunite the business community. Unfortunately, the community has had to fend for themselves and it’s time to kind of bring all that back together. Let’s get new partnerships going between all the different organizations and be a unified voice.” He highlighted the policy changes that have taken place over the past year and pointed to expected changes in coming years. “We’ve got to have a voice,” said Chris.
If you’re looking to get involved with the Chamber, you can become a member, join their ambassador program, or volunteer at their next event. The Chamber has an open-door policy and is open Monday through Friday. Information can be found on their website, beniciachamber.com. The Chamber will be hosting their installation dinner and annual gala in January.