Don Romo of Erickson Hall Construction will take the helm as chairman of the board of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce at the annual installation Thursday evening, which will be held as a virtual event starting at 6 p.m.
Actually, Romo has been acting chairman since January, when the previous chairman resigned, so he’s already been in the thick of Chamber activities, especially its response to the COVID-19 crisis. For Romo, the Chamber’s job in this time of trouble is simple: “The biggest thing is ‘How do we help the city support businesses and how do we help businesses communicate with the city and get things accomplished as a group?’ That’s our goal and focus this year.”
Although Thursday will be Romo’s “day in the sun,” he’s a lowkey guy. “I prefer not too many moments in the sun,” he told The Times-Advocate. “I just want to do the best I can do.”
A 50 year resident of Escondido (since he was a boy) Romo has been involved as a member of the Chamber for more than 20 years. Or about the same amount of time he has been with Erickson Hall Construction, an Escondido-based firm known for doing the construction-restoration work on The Ritz theater on Grand Avenue. Its main mission, however, is to work with church congregations to build church buildings, and to also build fire stations, schools and other essential services.
Romo’s main focus is in faith-based building. Once a church has identified a need to expand or renovate facilities, Romo brings a team of professionals, each experienced in faith-based building, to assist the church with financing, assess facility needs and produce construction documents. He remains an integral member of Erickson-Hall’s construction team that brings the new facility from vision to reality. “It’s turnkey development for churches. It’s been a great job!”
He added, “Our goal as Erickson Hall is really to be a good community member and be a steward to make sure that businesses are being served.”
Having served on the Chamber’s board of directors for several years, moving up to chairman “seemed like an appropriate time for me,” said Romo. “Matt Pound was the chair before me, and he asked me to be the chair elect. In January Matt resigned, and I became the chair by default. Otherwise my term was supposed to start July 1.”
As the city (state, nation and world) have faced one of the biggest crises in living memory, the Chamber has been in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the city and local businesses’ reaction to it.
“We have been working through COVID-19 and finding ways for the Chamber to help businesses. Especially to help small business,” said Romo. “Escondido is a pretty unique place. There is big businesses in Escondido but they are still run by the owners. It’s a blue collar town where the owners are still doing the work. That is what makes Escondido unique.”
The Chamber’s goal, he said, “is to represent all businesses in Escondido. To answer the question: If the Chamber disappeared tomorrow, would anyone miss us? That is why we are focused on Rising Stars [a program that recognizes sterling high school students] and working with the education community. We are working of other programs focused on community service. So people understand we are here to focus on business, but business members want to know there are good thigs happening in the community too.”
Many members of the Chamber are getting involved in these enterprises. “A lot of people are starting to step forward,” said Romo. “Older community members who are now board members. We as a community needs to care about Escondido; because that is really where we get our life from. Everything happens from the City of Escondido. Our employees live here. We spend money here. We do everything here.”
Another question the Chamber is working to answer is how to partner with the city to bring in more business. “What programs can we set up to equally representing all businesses?” asked Romo. “The city is looking at ways to help. Our relationship with the city is one of those relationships we are going to further develop so it becomes a great place to start a business. If you want to run a business here, it’s a great place to be. That is what the Chamber is for, to generate business. To represent businesses.”
Tied to that goal is that of growing membership. “In a perfect world, I would love to have every business as a member,” Romo said. “So we can understand what those businesses need to succeed and get that accomplished. From home based to SDG&E, to EDCO, have them all telling us what they need from the city, the state. What can we do to help your business be more successful?
As the saying goes, all ships rise with the tide. “That’s what the goal is. Help all businesses be more successful and we will have more success,” said Romo.
During the COVID-19 crisis the Chamber has held educational webinars every day. “Hundreds of people were tuning in to the webinars on how to get the PPP loans approved. The city introduced Escondido Eats, which the Chamber enthusiastically embraced and there are now six thousand members!” he said.
Escondido Eats is a Facebook page that informs members about that restaurants are open to the public and that there is a special. “If just ten percent or one percent showed up based on that it would be a good day for them,” said Romo. “That’s the kind of programs and partnerships with the city we are talking about. We are here to help. We know education is an important part for the work force. So how do we help? Ask us, and maybe we as a group can come together and figure out a solution.” He added, “It’s all about becoming a community and working together.”
Eventually COVID will end. “When it does we want to be running one hundred miles per hour and not miss a beat,” he said.
He notes how Escondido’s efforts to reopen the downtown by encouraging restaurants to move outside onto the sidewalk and even into one lane of the street (closed off, of course!) has revived that district. “What the city has done on Grade Avenue is a great job, and it’s building a buzz,” he said.
“When people are walking up and down that streets there’s a buzz about it. It reminds me of going to Paris and walking on the boulevards. It’s really neat and extends all the way up to Joe’s in the far end.”
The pandemic has allowed the city and the dining establishments to demonstrate the workability of a plan that has been in the works for Grand Avenue for several years and has been somewhat controversial. Now it is being demonstrated. “It’s a perfect storm that has allowed them to do that. It has turned the street into a walkable event.”
To find out more about the Chamber of Commerce,