The president-elect of the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce has ideas for the future
■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Meet Dee Cozart, recently elected president of the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce.
Born in Iowa, she moved to Northern California and then to San Jacinto, and graduated San Jacinto High School in 1973. She earned an associate degree in microbiology from Mt. San Jacinto Community College, has business and MBA degrees, has 41 years’ experience as a nurse, and was national senior director of corporate safety with the American Red Cross for 14 years.
Along the way she married her childhood sweetheart, Scott Cozart, the current Soboba Indian Reservation tribal chairman. She is the proud mother of Jason and Justin and six grandchildren, three from each of the two boys.
To say she is active in the San Jacinto Valley is not just an understatement. And she has a lot to talk about. For example, she’s got an opinion on Proposition 64, the legalization of recreational marijuana, which is a hot topic in the valley.
“Personally, I have one set of opinions of my own, but the chamber has not been approached on it. We intend to abide by the law,” she said. “If it is legal, then it should be regulated. As I understand the current situation, it is still illegal at the federal level. I would say this, however, it doesn’t make sense to me that marijuana and opiates are in the same category as a narcotic. “Everything we do at the chamber is designed to promote the business community in the valley,” she explained. In regards to welcoming marijuana-related businesses as chamber members, “We would want to consider it on a case by case basis. I know that right now it is somewhat of a thorny issue.”
The Chamber’s position on Measures E and U
Did the Chamber support Measures E and U, and if so, why?
“The Chamber supported both and we encouraged members to give us their opinions,” said Cozart. “The board listened to both sides of the issue and the city of Hemet gave presentations. Looking at the amount of vandalism in the valley and the fact that our own offices suffered from such criminal activity, we came down on the side that said we did need the money. So we supported them both because of their intent.”
Did the Chamber become involved in the attempt to farm out the Hemet Fire Department to the County? Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown is a chamber board member.
“Again, that issue was never presented to us for an opinion. We try to keep up with the legislative side of things. We were aware of the diversity and polarization that came from the attempt. The city of Hemet did not ask us for a stand or an opinion. However we, as we always do, welcomed both the pros and the cons for our members to hear and decide for themselves.
“The board made every effort to see that both sides of the issue were heard and digested,” Cozart continued. “Our job is not to take sides in such matters, but to make sure our membership is educated so that they may make educated decisions when they go into the voting booth.”
Chamber is lean and mean and means business
Board members range in age from 30s to 60s, said Cozart, and one-third are women. All board positions must be held by members in good standing. There are currently 15 board members, with Rick Hoffman serving as the ad-hoc legislative committee. Neither he nor CEO Andy Anderson has a vote on an issue, said Cozart.
“We have some younger folks, but they come as representatives of business owners. There used to be a Junior Chamber but the membership declined until it was disbanded.” Cozart says there is no way that it could be resurrected into the current chamber. “To tell you the truth we have become so lean and mean now, it is very hard. Without our volunteers, we might not be able to exist.”
With only two paid staff members to accommodate a business membership of 500, Cozart is telling the truth.
“We do not have the long term businesses we used to have as members. There was a time we were able to support the Ramona Pageant. Not anymore,” she added.
The chamber no longer gets money from the cities, although Hemet maintains a membership. “It takes a lot of hard work to maintain our small paid staff and to keep the lights on.”
She encourages new business memberships. “We have to be careful not to do anything that might discourage potential members. Many corporations don’t even bother with us and if a local franchise or outlet joins, they do so on their own, not from a corporate membership.”
She did allow that while both Wal-Mart and Stater Bros. maintain corporate memberships, dollar and discount stores don’t typically join. “We may have one or two, but they do it individually, not through their corporations.”
One benefit of being a member is a discount provided by other members. “A member might want to buy something from another member, who will give a discount. Everybody in the chamber gains through the member discount program. We are vigilant in our efforts to find new ways to accommodate and assist the business community.”
The chamber’s position on a JPA and the local economy
There has been talk over the years about the waste in having three governments in the valley. How does the chamber feel about that? Officially, the chamber doesn’t have a position, but Cozart does.
“I believe a Joint Powers Association would be feasible, but there’s a lot of diversity and differences when it comes to uniting as one city,” she said. “I am for anything that reduces administrative costs. That’s my feeling, not the chamber’s because as a group we do not have a stance on that.”
How does she feel about the local economy today?
“I think there are remarkable opportunities in this valley and I think both cities are crazy if they don’t jump at them,” said Cozart. “Now is the time to be out promoting developers and other business leaders to get in here while the getting is good.”
And with Soboba breaking ground on a new hotel and casino, “employment opportunities are going to spread rapidly throughout this valley. [Soboba is] one of the major employers in the valley and [employment opportunities] will increase with these new enterprises.”
With San Jacinto preparing to allow marijuana growth and sales, does she feel that will bring jobs to the valley?
“I think we should look for opportunities other than marijuana. That’s going to be pretty much an automated farm industry with very few job opportunities,” she said. “What we need is entertainment and hospitality development.”
Development opportunities are rich in the valley
She says there is a group currently working on how to develop Diamond Valley as “another destination type of activity. We need development on the neglected east side; shopping areas and eateries. The cities can’t continue to develop properties into houses that don’t sell. And there is a need to seek out light manufacturing. We certainly have the space to accommodate those types of businesses.”
She particularly pointed out money that she feels was not well spent.
“All that redevelopment money that was spent in downtown San Jacinto. What was that for? That is a non-shopping area that appeals to hardly anyone. Why hasn’t that been revamped? Bring in cafes, boutiques and a new movie theater,” Cozart said. “It would be a nice trolley ride into a pleasant little shopping area. If they do those things and run a trolley, people would come into the heart of San Jacinto. Same with Diamond Valley Lake. We would have people flowing through Hemet for its entertaining and shopping attractions.”
Treatment of new businesses and developers is high on her list of suggestions to both City Councils. “We must be friendly to developers. Parameters should be set with proper tax laws that do not discourage new business.” She believes that in the midst of all this, a strong chamber of commerce plays an important role. “I would like to see the chamber out of the ‘barely paying our bills stage’ where we could have money leftover to do things to improve our community.”
Cozart’s motto, as she takes on this new role is “The Chamber shall advocate when necessary and always try to educate.”
Dee Cozart is not some fly-by-night. She currently is active in eight various committees and boards in the valley. When I was a child my grandmother had a saying: “if you want something done and done right, give the job to a busy person.” I believe grandma would have sought out Dee Cozart.