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The head of a local chamber of commerce wears many hats. The job entails advocating for local businesses, fielding concerns from members, working with government officials on a wide range of issues and attempting to recruit new firms and sectors to set up shop.

To do their job well, chamber leaders must keep a close watch on the pulse of business within their communities.

A spate of executive director hires has resulted in a changing of the guard for five local chambers, warranting a check-in with a few of the new leaders to gauge the challenges and opportunities they see on the horizon for their cities and towns, especially those affected by the wildfires.

Some of the new faces represent a younger generation as older veterans from the field retire, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“They will help chambers adjust to the digitization of networking, and thus keep chambers as key players in business development,” Stone said.

All the new executive directors cited a need to build more affordable housing to recruit and retain employers and their workforce within Sonoma County. At the same time, the five leaders face different tests across their communities. In Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valley, recovery from the fires looms large while Guerneville looks to diversify its strictly tourist-based economy and Cloverdale seeks to attract more visitors. Here is a sampling of views from the new leaders:

Peter Rumble, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce

The October wildfires destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa alone, placing an even greater onus on the business community to push for more affordable housing. With thousands of residents displaced and forced to compete for limited replacement housing, the risk of losing workers to other areas is very real, said Peter Rumble, 40, a former deputy county administrator who was hired in January.

“Our employers are feeling the pinch on their bottom line,” Rumble said of the local housing crisis.

That pressure has spurred a search for new ways to speed development, Rumble said.

For example, a larger employer who desperately needs housing for employees could offer guarantees to a condo development so that project has a revenue stream to start construction, he said.

The chamber is taking a stronger interest in the performance of Santa Rosa schools because education and housing are the two priorities that businesses value when looking to relocate or expand, Rumble said. The group is targeting sectors such as green technology and the outdoors industry because those firms are already represented in the local economy, he said.

Another priority will be downtown development, which has been aided by a reunified Old Courthouse Square and a SMART station stop at Railroad Square. The biggest downtown drivers are the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping center just off the square and a growing array of eating and drinking establishments, including Russian River Brewing Co., which had almost 400,000 visitors last year.

“We shouldn’t have any vacant storefronts on Fourth Street,” Rumble said of the main downtown shopping district. Two hotel projects — a 144-room AC Hotel by Marriott at Fifth and Davis streets in Railroad Square and a boutique hotel at the site of the historic Empire Building on the square — will help increase foot traffic in the area and support retail business, he said.

He noted that downtown already boasts longtime retailers such as E.R. Sawyer Jewelers and Corrick’s stationery and gifts — both of which have been in business more than 100 years — along with newer establishments such as Kaliber, a hip men’s clothing store, and the new Parish Cafe, a popular Healdsburg breakfast joint that opened its second location on Fourth Street in the city. The overall retail mix offers a good variety across all demographics, he noted.

“We just need to bring the activity there,” Rumble said of downtown.

Mark Bodenhamer, Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce

Sonoma Plaza, with its resplendent law, historical and retail attractions and regular series of day and evening events, has no trouble attracting visitors. At times, residents feel the crowds are too much. In December, the City Council placed a moratorium on new tasting rooms around the plaza pending a study on the issue.

“Sonoma doesn’t want to be a one-trick pony,” said Mark Bodenhamer, who grew up in Santa Rosa and was previously president and CEO of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce in Orange County. “For us, it’s really about balance.”

The city is a haven for independent retailers, who are backed by an ordinance that places restrictions on new chain and franchise businesses. “It seems to resonate with people who are living there and shopping there,” said Bodenhamer, 39, who started in his post last month.

His focus will be on recruiting more of those entrepreneurial small businesses, he said. Another priority will be to reach out to the businesses that aren’t in the tourism sector — including building trades and insurance agents critical to the region’s fire recovery.

“Sure the hospitality businesses are fun and exciting,” Bodenhamer said. “The reality is we need the businesses that make Sonoma what it is.”

That includes shops off the plaza and businesses along Highway 12, taking in predominantly Latino communities in The Springs area.

“We are looking for ways to provide assistance for them to make sure they are not forgotten,” he said.

He said he was still trying to gauge the extent of the fire damage in the valley, though he was amazed by the perseverance of residents. No homes burned in city limits last year, but the valley lost more than 400 homes, mostly in Glen Ellen and Kenwood.

“The No. 1 thing I have learned in the short time I have been here is that everyone rallied together,” he said.

Elizabeth VanDyne, Russian River Chamber of Commerce

Come summertime, when River Road becomes a stream of visitors paralleling the Russian River, Guerneville sees its population skyrocket and Main Street businesses hum with activity.

But there’s more than seasonal traffic that keeps the local economy humming, said Elizabeth VanDyne, who started in January after leading an organization that promoted the maker movement in Colorado.

The local restaurant scene has been on a tear in recent years, with a bevy of new eateries that draw day and nighttime patrons.

“People don’t come for one thing anymore,” said VanDyne, 56, who goes by Elise. “People don’t come just to float on the river anymore.”

One challenge will be to highlight other activities that don’t generate as much attention for visitors and local residents, especially in the off season, VanDyne said. She noted the many artists and galleries based in the community and an art walk event held on the first Friday of every month.

“I would like to map all the creative industries we have and to see what we can do in helping support them to grow as entrepreneurs,” VanDyne said. “When you look at things in a collaborative way, you can bring things together that are really exciting.”

Given that Guerneville is unincorporated, VanDyne finds her job a little more difficult because there is no city council to rely upon to help advance the agenda of her 217 chamber members.

She has to work directly with Caltrans on issues such as parade permitting and traffic concerns along River Road, including disability access improvements to sidewalks. VanDyne said she has struck up a good relationship with Supervisor Lynda Hopkins to fight for more resources for the area, especially given the amount of tourism taxes the region generates.

“We only get back about 20 percent of the taxes generated here,” she said.

Neena Hanchett, Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce

Cloverdale has been clamoring for more business since it saw Highway 101 traffic diverted away from downtown in 1994. It has retained its large lumber yards — a vestige of the days when lumber was a booming North Coast industry. It has also succeeded in attracting new companies, among them Bear Republic Brewing Co. which established its beer-making headquarters here in 2006.

“What we are trying to do is bring people to Cloverdale as a destination stop,” said Neena Hanchett, 66, a former owner of the Cloverdale Reveille newspaper who became executive director in November. Cloverdale residents, however, do not want to turn it into another Healdsburg, Hanchett said, where many believe the pendulum has tilted too much toward a tourist economy at the expense of local residents.

Cloverdale has some natural advantages around outdoor recreation. It is near Lake Sonoma, the region’s largest reservoir, a major destination for boaters, paddlers, trail runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders, Hanchett said.

The city of around 9,000 residents has made some strides recently with the openings of the Dahlia & Sage Community Market — which offers organic products and prepared meals — and Plank Coffee, where customers can get vegan and gluten-free pastries as well as fresh roasted beans. But it still lacks sufficient hotel options, Hanchett said.

Still, the retail buildup helps to keep local residents at home to spend their money rather than getting on Highway 101 to drive to Healdsburg or Windsor to do their shopping or dining, she said.

“We want people to see Cloverdale how we see it as a friendly, fun and welcoming town,” Hanchett said.

Linda Collins, Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce

Sebastopol’s retail economy continues to show strong signs of expansion, riding a wave of new openings that included in 2013 The Barlow, the retail, arts and restaurant district near the Laguna de Santa Rosa. A high-end, 66-room hotel planned for the district remains on the drawing board, but the city isn’t suffering from a lack of visitors, with newish, acclaimed restaurants such as Ramen Gaijin and Handline consistently drawing big crowds.

Some Sebastopol businesses compete in very tough sectors and go up against big chains or digital merchants such Amazon. They include Toyworks, Community Market for groceries, and Copperfield’s Books. The “shop local” motto resonates in the city, said Linda Collins, 60, who became acting executive director for the chamber in February.

“We are trying to focus on shop local and keep your money in town,” she said.

Even when one business closes, another entrepreneur typically comes in to try their hand to make it work, she said. The former French Garden restaurant on Bodega Avenue was revamped as the Gravenstein Grill and has garnered good reviews and crowds with a menu that features fish tacos and duck confit flatbread, she said.

“Some of them seem to be weathering rather well,” Collins said of Sebastopol businesses. “Of course, we could always use more walk-in traffic.”

One lingering problem has been the retail area on the north side of town, especially with a large vacant space where the CVS store had been located until it moved last year to a spot at Highway 12 and Petaluma Avenue.

“We would like to get them filled,” Collins said of the commercial vacancies.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.