Letter From the Publisher

Gail Zurek speaks at the 69th Annual Awards event put on by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce on June 6, 2024.(Rigo Moran)

Gail Zurek impacted local business at every level

When Gail Zurek exited the stage of the Visalia Fox Theatre last Thursday, I began reflecting on the significance of her decade-long tenure driving business discourse in our community. As CEO of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, she impacted local businesses big and small, and, in my case especially, helped a business to build from small gains to significant growth.

The Sun-Gazette was months away from closing in 2015 when it first started to cover Visalia. Born out of the need to expand or die, the booming business community and population spurts of Tulare County’s largest city were the last hopes for this independent weekly to transform itself from a community newspaper into a regional one. Needless to say, getting Visalia’s attention in a market with an established daily newspaper didn’t happen fast enough to relieve the economic pressures on this paper. In fact, it didn’t really happen at all, that is, until I reached out to Gail.

Despite living in Visalia for nearly 15 years but primarily operating outside its city limits, I didn’t know Gail but she was familiar with the newspaper. She didn’t care that there was no pre-existing relationship, she just saw a chamber member in need of making connections with customers, other companies and the community as a whole. When the paper was struggling to find its financial footing, Gail introduced us to new advertisers, decision makers, and partners. Always one to immerse herself in every endeavor, Gail found a way for the chamber and the paper to be one of those partnerships. 

She saw the paper as a way to reach new readers for its newsletter while the paper saw it as a way to connect more with Visalia businesses and leadership. The partnership served as a catalyst to catapult the newspaper’s brand of accurate reporting to hold government accountable into the collective consciousness of a larger community. The boost provided by the Visalia business community helped us reach new subscribers, expand our coverage and further our mission of re-connecting communities with local news and information they can trust.

Since our partnership with the Visalia chamber, Mineral King Publishing, the parent company for The Sun-Gazette, has gone on to purchase and resurrect a second publication, the Mid Valley Times in Fresno County, and save countless other community newspapers, and high school and college newspapers, from having to print their products outside of the South Valley or stop publishing completely.

The growth of this company wasn’t just on the bottom line, but on a personal level rarely seen in the modern world of transactional relationships. Gail served as a sounding board for this company’s innovative ideas, which can often teeter between brilliant and brainless. She mentored me as a manager, guiding me through difficult decisions to invest in or divest from employees in pursuit of our mission. Not having enough staff to allow me the time to enter one of the many programs she helped create, like Leadership Visalia, she carved out time in her schedule to meet with me and provide coaching, camaraderie, and counsel.

She also oversaw growth in the business community, not just the number of new businesses joining the chamber, but also the number of businesses working with each other. The connections she helped make between this newspaper and resources in the community were but a fraction of the countless connections I witnessed her make between the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Perhaps her most lasting legacy will be championing Tulare County as a destination to not only explore outside resources to bring in but to discover the treasures that already lay within. Under Gail’s leadership, Visalia began to recognize and capitalize on the leadership of individuals already living and working here. She is the first one at any regional meeting to tout Tulare County’s hard-working people, small business success stories and local leaders with loads of guts and grit.

The success of the chamber’s annual Impact Leadership Conference is evidence of Gail’s grand ideas, guiding hand, and grateful heart.

The San Joaquin Valley is often seen as a low point for the Golden State, nothing more than an expanse in the shadow of the great peaks to the east. It is routinely framed from the outside as “poor,” “dirty,” “pitied” and “downtrodden.” It’s so consistently repeated in the metro areas to the north and south, many who live here have come to believe it as well. It takes real leadership to change how people view themselves and the potential they see in the people around them. 

Gail Zurek saw that potential in me and helped me see it in myself, my company and the place I am proud to call home. I thank her for sharing her care for community with all of us as long as she did and I know her next career will be filled with the same type of success she instilled in others.

Reggie Ellis
President & Publisher
Mineral King Publishing, Inc.

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