A new business group has launched in response to complaints from local business owners that the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce largely ignores their needs while focusing on lobbying City Hall on behalf of Disney, the Angels and other big companies.
The group, dubbed the Anaheim Small Business Organization or ASBO, held its launch party at The Phoenix Club in Anaheim last Friday evening, with more than 50 business owners and representatives attending.
According to several members and leaders of the new group, the association will fill a “void” when it comes to support for small businesses. The group plans on offering classes for new entrepreneurs in such areas as accounting and payroll and provide networking events.
“We need to be one voice to thrive, to be profitable,” said Thomas “Hoagy” Holguin, a real estate agent and construction contractor.
The new organization is being seen as another example of how Anaheim has become increasingly divided over political representation. Some Latinos and residents have loudly complained that the current City Council majority caters to the affluent neighborhoods and the big businesses in the city's resort district.
“We found that there was a glitch, that there was nobody out there representing small businesses,” said Larry Woodard, an ASBO board director and secretary of the organization.
Pennie Contos, an ASBO board director, and Susan Klaren-Hatzenbuhler, a member, previously worked for the chamber. They said the chamber doesn't offer networking, which they said is the main benefit of membership to such an organization. When asked what the chamber's primary activity is, both simultaneously replied “lobbying.”
“The chamber looks to focus on building the economy with big business,” Contos said.
Among other deals, the chamber promoted a controversial $158-million tax subsidy for the politically connected developer of two four-star hotels near the city's outdoor GardenWalk mall, which at least one other hotelier said unfairly favored that developer over the rest of the city's hotel market.
Most recently, chamber President Todd Ament has been busy advocating the City Council majority's position on Angel Stadium lease negotiations. His group financed and organized a “Keep The Angels” rally last month at City Hall.
The chamber also funds a political blog run by Matthew Cunningham that consistently attacks Mayor Tom Tait for his opposition to what the mayor said is a series of sweetheart business deals for City Hall insiders.
According to board directors and members, ASBO will put such politics aside — the group won't have a political action committee — and most importantly will give small companies opportunities to sell to each other via networking events. The chamber provides such events only as an ancillary benefit of chamber membership, they said.
Holquin said he would like the concept to eventually branch out of Anaheim and spread across Orange County.
“It's great to have a business group that's focused on small businesses and is independent of the city,” Tait said. “It's about freedom, freedom to fulfill a dream.”
Councilwoman Gail Eastman, who attended the event, acknowledged that the chamber likely does not serve all the needs of small businesses.
ASBO membership dues are $175 per year, which members said is hundreds of dollars cheaper than chamber dues. However, they said, the new group is not meant to compete with the chamber but fill a small-business void that the chamber currently doesn't address.
The group's leaders didn't have an available estimate on the number of members so far, but Holquin said the goal is to have 200 by year's end.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Susan Klaren-Hatzenbuhler. Also, Thomas "Hoagy" Holguin's name was misspelled. We regret the errors.