Candace Ledesma wants to focus on collaboration among local nonprofit organizations as one goal on her plate as new chamber of commerce CEO.
Ledesma was named new chamber CEO and offered insight on her background and expectations for the role. She took over for Juli Vieira, who departed for the same role with the Sausalito chamber.
Ledesma in an interview said she wants the chamber to be a valued resource for small merchants, large businesses, nonprofits and for-profit organizations. She sees economic opportunities not just in Hollister, but also in places like San Juan Bautista, Tres Pinos and Panoche.
She wants to make relationships stronger in the community, she said.
“I really feel there’s a huge need not only for the business advocacy side,” Ledesma said. “I really feel there’s a need for collaboration among organizations around the county. I’ve noticed a lot of separate silos going on. Everything is doing their own thing.”
As for background, Ledesma was born and raised in San Benito County. She attended Spring Grove School and graduated from San Benito High School in 2000. She moved away after high school for a couple years but quickly realized she wanted to come home.
“The rate race wasn’t for me out there in the crazy world,” she said. “I loved it and appreciated it. I wanted to raise a family in the same small community I was raised in.”
On the higher education side, Ledesma received an associates degree from Gavilan College and graduated from California State University, Monterey Bay. She worked in the wine industry for 12 years, worked for an agency helping adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently was employed with Central Coast Energy Services in marketing.
She said her heart always has been in the nonprofit sector, though.
“For-profit wasn’t something I envisioned myself doing as a career,” she said.
It’s a relatively quiet time of year at the chamber, which made for a good transition period. Still, Ledesma has been busy in her first couple weeks. She has met many locals in the businesses and nonprofit communities, and attended events like the Hollister Downtown Association Nibble & Network held last week.
“Being born and raised here, to be able to come back, I think is just a blessing,” she said.
For the chamber board, Ledesma stood out among job candidates with her communication skills, said Board President Victor Gomez.
“What really stood out about her was her personability,” Gomez said. “She was able to engage us in conversation.”
It helped that she has business connections with the wine and tourism industries. Gomez said Ledesma also brings a fresh perspective.
“It is a really potlicial position, but she’s never been politically involved,” he said. “We feel like she’s almost like a fresh set of eyeballs but not really.”
Gomez said tourism will be a particular focus. He mentioned a recent “snag” during the CEO transition with local governments showing uncertainty about providing public funding to the chamber’s tourism efforts as they have in the past. He said the funding has been an important element with efforts to promote places such as Hollister Hills, Pinnacles National Park and Old Mission San Juan Bautista. Gomez said San Juan is critical when it comes to economic opportunities.
He’s also interested in the direction for the recently approved increase in the transient occupancy “hotel” tax from 8 percent to 12 percent.
“What’s going to be done with that extra money?” he said, wondering if it will go into a “slush fund” or toward economic investments.