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Chamber’s virtual installation will celebrate 110 years

Chamber CEO James Rowten

The Escondido Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its 110th anniversary installation on Thursday, July 30, 6-7 p.m. This is the Chamber’s annual installation celebration, which has traditionally been celebrated with a gala banquet—curtailed this year by COVID-19.

The celebration is real, but the location will be “virtual.”

The Times-Advocate spoke to Escondido Chamber CEO James Rowten, who described the virtual event. “This is an opportunity for new board members to be recognized and sworn in by Mayor Paul McNamara and for the Chamber to recognize the new Ambassadors: the volunteer arm of the Chamber who represents it at signature events and ribbon cuttings, wherever they go out in public.”

Although a virtual event, there will be food and wine, which can be delivered to your home. “We have paired with Cocina del Charro, Holiday Wine Cellar and Lost Abbey in San Marcos,” said Rowten. “Cocina put together a meal from a menu and you have choices.” That includes menu options for those who want a lighter fare. 

Those who buy a tickets to the event can include wine, beer or dinner and then log onto the event via Zoom. Noted economist Chris Thornberg will be the keynote speaker.

“Typically, it’s been a great grand celebration,” said Rowten. “Last year was the Starlight Gala on a Friday night with people wearing black tie, bringing their spouses or significant others and sharing a really fun evening full of awards given out to local businesses and celebrating successes.”

Not this year. “We realized we would have to pivot to a virtual event, which is different and there are certain things you can’t do,” said Rowten. “We aren’t doing a cascade of awards. We are being respectful of people’s time. I’m going to host with my wife, Lise Markham and she’s very adept at entertaining.” He added, “She is an extremely accomplished business person.”

Thornberg is an expert on the local economy and a frequent speaker on the economic challenges and opportunities specific to North County, San Diego and Escondido.

Noted economist Chris Thornberg will be the keynote speaker.

Rowten first met Thornberg ten years ago at the annual Torrey Pines Bank Economic Forecast. “He is always the keynote speaker. I’ve never seen a guy take a ninety page PowerPoint and keep everyone so engaged that you want to hear what he says. He’s fast and bright and always spot on with his predictions.” Thornberg will speak for 20 minutes. “We think this topic is right on, because the Chamber is about business,” said Rowten.

The new Ambassadors will be recognized and some awards will be given. They will thank the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming officers, who will be sworn in by Mayor McNamara. Don Romo, new chairman of the Chamber board, will also address the group.

“It’s going to be an opportunity through COVID to be as close as you possible can with your business community and kind of enjoy each other,” said Rowten, who added, “One hundred and ten years is not insignificant. It is quite a legacy for this Chamber.”

Many well-known Escondido residents have been Ambassadors in the past, included the Champagne Music Maker himself, Lawrence Welk. There are usually six to ten Ambassadors. 

Don Romo will be installed as incoming chairman of the Chamber.

Despite the challenges of COVID, says Rowten, “The Chamber has done a fabulous job of working through this pandemic and met the challenge of providing our community with information that is thoroughly vetted.” He is also happy that the Chamber doesn’t flood members’ emails with endless messages. “That kind of clutter leads to less engagement,” he said.  

During the year, Rowten’s first as CEO, the Chamber welcomed new business that wanted to get involved. During that time, and especially during the COVID crisis, the Chamber has worked to build a new dining presence with Escondido Eats, which celebrates local restaurants. 

“The Chamber isn’t just sitting back and not doing things. I have a vision for a three year plan that not only would far outlive us but can be a permanent positive change to the city and is something Escondido can and must have,” he said. 

The following will be installed:


  • Yessenia Mendoza
  • Suzanne Southwell
  • Marie Schwab
  • Julie Kangas
  • Joe Coyle
  • Cheryl Engdahl (new)
  • Patrick Stone (new)
  • Craig Harris (new)

Board of Directors

  • Don Romo, incoming chairman
  • Jayde Olin
  • Ernie Cowan
  • Jerry VanLeeuwan
  • Kevin S. Svetich
  • Mona Durney
  • Joe Coyle
  • Dan Meyer
  • Kristen Steinke
  • Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra
  • Tina Pope
  • Chris Iaccio
  • Jim Vanderspek
  • Yessenia Mendoza
  • Adrian Zavala
  • Johna McCormick
  • Shawn Roner
  • Pauline Gourdie (new)
  • Corrine Busta (new)
  • Carol Rogers (new)
  • Wehay Quisquis (new)
  • Stan Weiler (new)
  • John Schwab (new)
  • Cassandra Schaeg (new)

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