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San Benito
February 20, 2024

Chamber names Leonard as permanent CEO

The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce has named Michelle Leonard as the permanent CEO of the organization.

“We thought she’s been doing a great job,” said chamber board Chairman Robert Rodriguez. “We wanted to move forward with her. We made an offer, and she accepted.”

Rodriguez went on: “She has a lot of energy. We like the fact she has a lot of energy. She’s out there. She’s very involved. She’s doing a great job at handling the financials.”

Leonard had been interim CEO since November when she took over for Candace Ledesma, who resigned in late October four months into the job. Ledesma had succeeded former CEO Juli Vieira after she had resigned last April for the chamber CEO job in Sausalito after nearly four years in the local role.

Being named to the permanent position allows Leonard to move ahead on longer-term commitments with partners and programs, she said Friday. She said she wants to reevaluate members’ needs and plans to keep that as her top priority. She expects to conduct an updated member survey in the coming weeks and months.

“I want to make sure I’m dedicating my time to what they need,” she said.

Leonard added: “Everything else like events and mixers, that’s all second to making sure their businesses are successful.”

Leonard came to the chamber from the role of operations and development coordinator with the San Benito County Arts Council, while she also had some experience working part time for the Hollister Downtown Association last year.

“It’s definitely an added benefit because of the connections I’ve been able to make through working for the San Benito County Arts Council and the HDA, and even with my family having a local business,” Leonard said.

From an operational standpoint, Leonard will focus on growing membership and retaining current members, and continuing to stabilize the organization’s financial situation. Revenue helps to bolster the group’s programming, after all, and it has been a difficult year in that regard, especially after the Hollister City Council discontinued its nearly $80,000 grant to the organization last year while the chamber had been in a leadership transition.

In the immediate future, chamber members and the public will have the chance to meet with Leonard at the next Business After Hours Mixer set for 5:30-7 p.m. March 13 at the Hollister Grocery Outlet.

Rodriguez said some other priorities for the board looking ahead include getting the visitors center back up and running, and improving collaboration with the HDA, San Benito County Business Council, Economic Development Corporation of San Benito County and San Juan Bautista. Leonard was an obvious choice to make those things happen, he said.

“I think she’ll do a great job and I think we all think that,” Rodriguez said. “It was an easy, unanimous vote. We think she’ll do great.”