Gail Zurek steps down as Chamber CEO

(Rigo Moran)Gail Zurek, who has served on the Visalia Chamber of Commerce for almost a decade, is stepping down from her role as CEO to continue helping local businesses in other ways.

Zurek reflects on her legacy at the Visalia Chamber of Commerce as she readies to embark on a new path towards helping local businesses

VISALIA – Gail Zurek, who has dedicated herself to serving the local business community as CEO of the Chamber for almost a decade, is stepping down from her role to pursue a career in law, leaving behind a legacy of transformative leadership and a deep commitment to the well-being of businesses in Visalia.

Zurek is resigning her duties as the Chamber’s CEO to pursue a career in law, that way she can continue to help local businesses in other ways. From helping the Chamber recover from effects of the 2008 recession, to staying dedicated to businesses during the pandemic, Zurek has surely left her mark on an institution that has unified the community for years.

“To work at the Chamber, you have to have a passion for local business, and I’ve been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by staff – and frankly – a board of directors whose passion and heart really is making sure that we have a strong vibrant local economy,” Zurek said.

According to the Chamber’s announcement of her departure, Zurek’s impact has extended beyond conventional business counsel. Through her leadership, she has shaped local policies and legislation and fostered support for the business community in Visalia. 

“Gail’s departure leaves a void that will be felt throughout the business community,” Nathan Halls, Chair of the Board of Directors, said via announcement. “Her transformative leadership has set a high standard, and we are grateful for the positive impact she has made during her tenure.” 

Some of the chamber’s accomplishments under the leadership of Zurek include championing the creation of a microbrewery district – which helped create jobs and revitalize the east side of the downtown district – updates to the city’s sign ordinance, devising common sense solutions for commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods and ensuring food trucks had access to customers.

Out of all of the things Zurek has done at the chambers, however, she said she is most proud of the one-on-one conversations she’s had with business owners during rough times.

“My proudest moments are the phone calls that I received during COVID from business owners,” she said. “What a tremendous honor, that in such a scary time, people were willing to reach out to (me) for help.”

From Zurek’s account, the Visalia Chamber had to adapt a lot with the rise of the pandemic. Rewinding back into 2020, when everything went into lockdown, municipal laws and regulations on businesses were constantly undergoing change – something Zurek kept up to date with to ensure the Chamber was giving its members an accurate account of what to do during the pandemic.

“We were working with city and county leaders to understand what the state has said, and what does that then mean for us locally,” Zurek said.

It was that consistent work to review the most updated COVID laws during the pandemic that sparked her interest in pursuing a career in municipal law. During that rough patch, to help members stay up to date with the changing economic impact of the pandemic, Zurek hosted a Facebook live every Wednesday morning to review changes, answer questions and talk to people.

“I wanted to show people to be optimistic and to look forward,” she said. “I was really concerned as a community that we wouldn’t be investing back in local businesses and nonprofits and doing all the things that made Visalia special.”

Zurek went on to explain that the same love she has for local business, which now is leading her to law, is what brought her to the chamber initially. She took over in the role of CEO from Glen Morris, who had held the Chamber together during the 2008 recession as well as helped in establishing their own Chamber building.

“They were under some pretty significant financial constraints…My predecessor had done a really great job of making sure the chamber kept its doors open,” Zurek said.

She explained that the financial constraints and lack of financial reserves are what required her to build a strong fiscal policy during her time as CEO. This helps designate the reserves and will make it easier for future chamber leaders to make  “decisions based on vision and strategic purpose.”

As for one of the other achievements Zurek is most proud of, that would be the Chamber’s Jr. CEO program. This is an innovative entrepreneurship course for fourth to sixth graders that introduces students to fundamental business principles to prepare the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.  

The course is a collection of online video resources available for educators to get children interested in starting a business. This idea was one of the projects Zurek wanted to pursue during the pandemic. She hoped to combat the repressions COVID had on local business, which she was worried would keep the community’s youth from pursuing business later on.

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