Sept. 29--Curtain up! Lights! The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce "like you've never seen it before" debuts Tuesday with a new logo, website and refurbished brand identity "to better reflect San Francisco's unique and innovative business community."
"It's a new day for the chamber," said CEO Bob Linscheid, who took over the organization's helm in February and has led the makeover.
In addition to the new look, several initiatives are in the works aimed at putting the chamber closer to the nexus linking business, politics and public policy in San Francisco.
"As a 160-year-old organization, we have to be more nimble in addressing the changing needs of business, to take advantage of the mass of opportunities for San Francisco, especially in foreign and emerging markets, and create opportunities for all our people," said Linscheid.
A heady brew for a city as diverse and, shall we say, fractious as San Francisco. But with 1,500 member businesses employing 200,000 people, Linscheid believes the chamber can be the convener of stakeholders on key economic and business issues confronting the city.
"There's a need to bring people together to push things forward. That's been missing in the past," he said.
One area Linscheid wants to push on is exports to make San Francisco more of an international trading center, initially by greatly increasing the number of direct flights to and from Asia and South America.
"One of the missing pieces that other metros have is an export plan," he said. Pointing to San Diego's "Metropolitan Export Initiative" as an example, the chamber is working, with the assistance of the Brookings Institution, on identifying San Francisco business clusters with potential appeal to international markets. Two that come to mind: professional services, like architects and designers, and local manufacturing, e.g., SFMade.
Linscheid also pointed to ChinaSF (a public-private partnership involving the chamber's Center for Economic Development), which has recruited more than 30 Chinese companies to San Francisco in the past five years. Last month, Startup Brasil, an initiative of the Brazilian government, took up some space at San Francisco's RocketSpace, a high-tech accelerator.
"We believe there are other emerging markets that can be introduced to San Francisco," said Linscheid.
Rural county work
Prior to joining the San Francisco chamber, he was managing director of Innovate North State, a public-private partnership focused on bringing high-tech and other growth sector jobs to the mostly rural counties. So he knows all about the central driver of San Francisco's economy, and is all for it. He's also aware of the downsides -- rising commercial rents, astronomical housing prices, changing demographics -- and the problems they pose for the city, including many of the chamber's 1,300 small business members and the lesser-paid employees of member companies.
Solutions? More difficult to come by. "With prosperity there are winners and losers," he said when pressed at a media briefing last week. What help for the losers?
"More (housing) supply" mainly, he answered, including the 40,000 new units of affordable housing coming on line, according to the city's general plan.
But much of that housing is decades away. And it isn't clear that it will make much difference to the increasingly lopsided nature of San Francisco's economy.
These are serious public policy issues, which Linscheid may need to add to his agenda.
'Formula retail' war
Of more immediate concern is the Board of Supervisors' escalating war on "formula retail."
A deluge of legislation has been offered recently limiting even further the ability of national chain stores from opening new locations in San Francisco. The most draconian proposal, offered by Supervisor Eric Mar, would expand the definition of formula retail to include companies with more than 11 locations worldwide (not just in the United States), and with limited exceptions would outlaw them citywide. It would also apply to subsidiaries that are more than 50 percent owned by a chain, and include sectors like tourist hotels, gas stations, auto dealerships, parking lots, animal hospitals and adult entertainment venues. I counted 28 new categories in Mar's legislation, added to the existing definition of formula retail in San Francisco.
In response, the chamber has just launched a "formula retail economic study," seeking to ascertain the "true facts" about the impact of formula retail on neighborhood businesses. An outside economist is being hired and various stakeholders, including formula retail representatives, will be part of a chamber-sponsored committee.
'A balanced approach'
"It's very high on the agenda. We need to get a balanced approach to retail," said Dede Workman, the chamber's director of public policy. "It's a perfect example of the chamber's more assertive involvement in issues in which it can bring all the stakeholders together."
Ah, yes, balance. Convening stakeholders. Arriving at consensus.
Welcome to San Francisco, Mr. Linscheid. You may have your work cut out.