By Alfredo Santana
SOUTH GATE — The City Council has approved $150,000 in payments to the South Gate Chamber of Commerce to be disbursed over three years to advertise the advantages of doing business in the city and to promote the benefits of living in or relocating here.
The payments would be made for $50,000 each of the following three fiscal years, starting in 2022-23, with the caveat that the Chamber of Commerce increases its business membership by 15% a year.
Currently, the chamber has 74 registered business owners and a wide spectrum of members such as independent sales agents who pay a minimum $100 fee, to more complex and larger ones like manufacturers that sign up for $750 memberships, plus the recent addition of an Amazon Sortation Center located on Rayo Avenue for $1,600.
South Gate Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ana Elizarraras said that the city has provided financial support to the chamber for many years to conduct yearly events and design campaign strategies to help local businesses attract more customers, raise sales and expand their presence.
Traditionally, the chamber has sponsored events such as the Mayor’s State of the City address, the Children’s Christmas Lane Parade and a career workforce development expo.
However, the nonprofit is also expected to host a Southeast Los Angeles County Business Expo, conduct a speaker series each year in partnership with civic groups, and conduct ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new business operators.
“The idea for the financial support is to host events in the city for the direct benefit of the city,” Elizarraras said.
Some of the popular events involve bringing entertainment that restores a sense of normalcy to seniors at convalescent centers hit hard by COVID-19 and its variants.
For example. Elizarraras said that in partnership with two local businesses, the chamber recently sponsored a two-hour long mariachi performance for seniors while food and snacks were served with the presence of Mayor Al Rios.
“It just creates an opportunity for engagement,” Elizarraras said. “The mayor showed up, a city council member showed up and some business owners who didn’t know them got to meet them.”
At the event, a flu shot drive was held and 260 bags of food were donated along with other giveaways.
Some events the chamber sponsors provide the opportunity to raise funds, such as the Mayor’s State of the City address, where ticket sales run in the hundreds of dollars.
However, the main objective is to promote business growth among its members by offering workshops that help local entrepreneurs explore various loans offered by the Small Business Administration, study opportunities for expansion and even offer internships to students seeking to gain experience to join the paid workforce.
Elizarraras said that despite having only two full-time employees, the chamber has developed strong ties with other groups such as the Leadership California Institute through which it has promoted local businesses owned by Latinos.
“I want my members to put value to their membership with the Chamber of Commerce. My goal is to make them a member,” Elizarraras said.
The approved funds will enable the chamber to continue activities to support economic and workforce development, and improve civic engagement and communications in South Gate, said a report from Meredith Elguira, director of city’s Community Development Department.
“Using the requested funding, the chamber will continue to disseminate information to the public about the benefits of locating a business in the city, serve as an informational bureau, [and] maintain an office within the city which is accessible to the public,” Elguira wrote in the report.
Earlier this year, the chamber directed a program to provide $7,500 grants to brick-and-mortar barbershops, beauty salons, mom-and-pop businesses and other storefronts severely impacted by COVID-19 to stay afloat and cover expenses like rent, payroll and to purchase sanitary equipment.
The city’s financial allocation also instructs the chamber to work with public and private agencies to obtain appropriate information and services for prospective businesses.
If in-person events were canceled due to rising COVID-19 transmissions, the chamber would provide substitute ones such as online forums and workshops to access resources for the local businesses.
Among planned activities this year, the chamber of commerce will launch an advertising campaign to encourage residents, people who work in South Gate but live in other cities and visitors to buy at local shops on National Small Business Shopping Day Nov. 26, two days after Thanksgiving Day.
Last year, the marketing effort served as a launching pad for local businesses still shaken by the pandemic to network with city officials like Rios and get to know police officers who patrol the commercial districts.
Elizarraras said the business operators were impressed because they did not expect a gathering with elected leaders, and ignored that police also support economic activities generated by retailers and service providers.
Another activity the chamber pursues pending city council approval is the Yiftee Program, whereby residents can purchase cards valued at $100 and $150 to be matched with funds from the America Rescue Funds Act.
The condition would be that the money should be spend in retailers and outlets registered within the city to encourage a stronger local economy.
All adults would be able to purchase a Yiftee card if they can demonstrate that they are local residents or work and frequently shop in South Gate.
The out-of-pocket money spent to buy the cards would not have expiration dates, but the matching funds with ARPA money should be spent before the program expires on Dec. 31, 2026.
“Anybody in the community would be able to purchase it,” Elizarraras said. “The goal is to keep the money local, or to keep local dollars local.”
Elizarraras submitted an initial petition to fund the Yiftee Program for $75,000, and said she will try to convince the City Council to approve it soon.