Written by The Business Journal Staff
Gail Zurek, President/CEO
Visalia Chamber of Commerce
What we do: We help create a strong local economy, promote the community, provide networking opportunities and represent the interests of business with government.
California Lutheran University
My Husband Michael, Associate Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church and our amazing sons Sam (10) and Joe (5) and our English Bulldog Tank
How did you come to position with the Visalia Chamber of Commerce?
I had the opportunity to work with Glenn Morris, the former CEO, on a number of projects and initiatives prior to his departure. He encouraged me to apply. I am certainly glad I did.
What are some of your goals as CEO, Gail?
I look forward to continuing to support and advocate for businesses and our community. Additionally we are looking to expand our online resources to allow more members to access Chamber benefits night or day.
What do you bring to the job from your experience working in Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gail?
When I began working at the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was new to town myself. I enjoyed sharing all I was learning about my new community with travelers, tourist and convention attendees. At the Chamber I get to continue to share about our amazing town beyond items that interest tourists. At the heart of it, I get to continue promoting our wonderful community.
You began your career in higher education. What led to the switch to helping businesses, Gail?
I spent over a decade in higher education. Much of that was time spent at the University of Chicago connecting the university with businesses domestically and internationally. As the executive director of Career Development, I helped organizations create hiring solutions that attracted the best and brightest while helping the university to create programs that trained business leaders. After the University of Chicago, prior to moving to California, I was the area director of the Better Business Bureau serving three counties in Northwest Indiana. The area is as diverse as the businesses that operated there but the universal idea that businesses need advocates still remained.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? What goals would you still like to achieve, Gail?
I have a reputation for building collaborative partnerships. This approach has created opportunities to achieve goals in ways I never thought possible. It is this approach that I hope will build chamber membership, allow even more partnerships and ultimately allow us to advocate for and support local business.
What are some benefits of becoming a member of the Chamber, Gail?
Known for our ability to raise the profile of a business, many join the Chamber for the powerful marketing tools. However membership affords so much more. Membership is the first step in partnering with the Chamber to help create a more vital and supportive business climate within our community. Through the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, Leadership Visalia and Young Professional Network, we are supporting entrepreneurship and helping business leaders develop. Our classes, workshops and institutes—both online and in person—help business owners tackle real issues facing their business and remain current with market trends. As the voice of business, we advocate for their needs locally and at the state and federal level as well. That voice insures members’ needs are shared during important decision making times. Ultimately, businesses join the chamber to create a partnership that not only benefits their businesses but the community as a whole.
What do you see coming out of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy the Visalia Chamber launched last year, Gail?
This program has been a wonderful way for the Chamber to give young entrepreneurs, future business leaders, the education and support they need to launch their business. From marketing, to legal, and accounting classes, this academy gives students tangible tools to become successful. I’m proud not only of our students but the countless business leaders who have stepped up to support this financially as well as with their time. Their mentorship of these students makes all the difference in their education and success of their future endeavors. I expect that one day, very soon, these students will be the business leaders offering their support.
What recent legislative issues has the chamber taken a stance on for their impact to businesses, Gail?
The Visalia Chamber has been active in a number of issues federally, on a state level and local level. Federally, we have been active in legislative conversations that advocate for saving 700 local Cigna jobs. We have had many conversations regarding water issues with our state legislators. Locally we’ve spent time working on a new proposed Sign Ordinance, Transportation Impact Fees, and local city council voting districts.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Gail?
I learned a great deal from my first job with a rubber stamp company. Responsible for making rubber stamps that included signature stamps for most local judges, I learned the value of craftsmanship, precision and speed. The large lesson came from the owners of the company. Their work, marketing their company, staying relevant in a changing economy (this was before you could create a useable electronic signature) was a huge lesson in what it took to own your own business. I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of a family-owned business and see the inside working of what makes it tick. Those lessons, and lessons from working with many other businesses, fuel my work here at the Chamber.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Gail?
I have an amazing family. My “spare time” is spent watching soccer games, plays, and going to church with my family. When time and budget allows, we love traveling to all things Disney—from Disneyland to Disney World and we even love Disney Cruises.