CALEXICO — While one Calexico Chamber of Commerce board member characterized the financial state of the chamber as “bad,” the organization’s longtime leader downplayed the situation recently.
“I think all chambers are struggling. That’s just how it is now,” said Hildy Carrillo, executive director, during an interview with this newspaper on Nov. 20.
Carrillo acknowledged the economy in the city is difficult, and said, “we’re having a little bit of a hard time,” but she maintained the chamber is making it work with a board of directors that pitches in, volunteers its time to staff events and donates to the chamber’s efforts when needed.
The organization frequently posts photos of its activities and meetings on social media.
But chamber board member Louis Wong maintained times are tough.
“Right now, we don’t have funding from the city of Calexico and membership is down and dues are down,” Wong, the owner of Yum Yum Chinese Food, said during a Nov. 21 interview.
“When business is good, everybody’s chipping in,” he said, adding more businesses are now shying away from chamber events.
Wong added, “We just hope we have more new businesses come in. … We need them to be there.”
Carrillo agreed that it is an organization that depends on the dues of its paying members for most of its revenue, but she would say no more on that subject.
However, she did point out the city of Calexico has not contributed to the chamber as much since former Gov. Jerry Brown shut down state redevelopment agencies in 2012.
The city has also battled multi-million-dollar budget deficits in recent years, only recently showing signs of staying out of red ink through staff cuts.
The city now pays only an annual membership fee, like other chamber members.
City Manager David Dale said during a Nov. 21 interview the city pays the chamber $5,000 a year in membership fees and provides it with its office space, a building at 1100 Imperial Ave., free of charge.
The city owns the approximately 1,600-square-foot building, but Dale said the chamber pays all its own utilities.
“We’d like to get them a new building,” Dale said, but added there’s no way to do that at the moment. He said the aging chamber building was constructed sometime in the 1970s.
Dale added the city also used to pay the chamber $10,000 every year to stage the Calexico Christmas Parade, but with the city looking at any way it can cut costs, it took the work back in-house last year. Dale said Calexico City Council Member Lewis Pacheco took it on himself last year to solicit donations to put on the parade and ended up raising the $10,000 needed to stage the event.
Pacheco is doing it again this year, Dale said.
Carrillo’s not complaining. She noted she understands the need to cut expenses.
“The chamber is the last thing on the list,” Carrillo said, referring to when agencies look to make contributions. “That’s why we do it (chamber activities) by volunteering, donating, everybody doing their part.”
Carrillo later did not immediately return phone calls seeking answers to additional questions.
Members of the Calexico City Council had differing sentiments when it comes to the chamber’s struggles.
Mayor Pro Tem David Romero said he heard the chamber was struggling “a bit,” but he thinks the organization needs to do more to help itself, including being more active and “being on top of every single company that opens in the city.”
While Wong said he thinks more businesses are closing, Romero said he believes the city is seeing new businesses begin to open again.
“There’s a lack of communication” with the chamber, Romero said during a Nov. 21 interview.
He criticized the chamber for not being in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Southern California retailer Treasure Hunt, which opened in the former Vons grocery store location off West Second Street on Nov. 15.
City officials think Treasure Hunt’s opening is a big win for the area. Calexico beat out El Centro for the store, Dale told the council during his city manager’s report at the Nov. 20 council meeting. He also told the council he believes the new store will replace the sales tax lost in the city by the closures of Toys R Us and JC Penney.
Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge, on the other hand, looks on the chamber’s situation a bit more sympathetically.
“In a general sense, they’ve been struggling. I think it’s a misfortune that the city has cut ties in a sense in not helping the chamber,” Hodge said Nov. 25.
Hodge’s only criticism is he would like to see the chamber have more of a balance between the parties and events the organization stages, such as its annual Mariachi Sin Fronteras festival and Lava Lamp awards dinner, with more business retention and promotion efforts.
Still, Hodge said, “From my perspective, I’d like the city, as we become more solvent, that we have a financial tie with the chamber again.”
This story is featured in the Nov 28, 2019 e-Edition.