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Conejo Valley Public, Private Sectors Toast Successes


During an hour and a half of congratulatory backslapping Wednesday night, Thousand Oaks business leaders and city officials praised themselves for working together to pull through the economic slump.

Representing businesses from mom-and-pop stores to biotechnology giant Amgen, more than 50 executives gathered for the annual Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce convention, called to assess the local economy.

Although they griped about statewide issues, such as workers' compensation, most speakers saluted the Thousand Oaks government for changing its attitude toward business and improving relations with the Chamber of Commerce.

Thousand Oaks--a city so nit-picking that it once fined an auto dealer who painted his showroom the wrong shade of white--has become considerably more business-friendly over the past year, said Jill Lederer, chairwoman of the chamber's board of directors.

As proof, she cited a temporary-sign ordinance permitting some oversize banners, an ombudsman program to help developers and a blue-ribbon committee charged with revitalizing the economy.

Mayor Judy Lazar told the group that in just a few months, closer cooperation between the city and the chamber has paid off. Among recent economic highlights, she noted:

* Amgen this week announced plans to expand its operations, doubling its payroll to about 4,000 employees over the next five years.

* Blue Cross of California will recruit 700 local white-collar workers for its new offices in Newbury Park.

* A Saturn dealership plans to move into the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall.

* The city's sales tax revenue leaped 10% in the fourth quarter of 1992, even as the statewide economy continued to lag. Renovation of The Oaks shopping center and a planned expansion of the Janss Mall should boost retail sales even more over the next few years.

"We're managing to get through," Lazar said.

Smiling at the executives gathered in an auditorium of GTE's headquarters off Thousand Oaks Boulevard, she added: "Your success is really our success, so keep up the good work."

A few kernels of gloom did slip in amid the rush of optimism.

For example, Chamber of Commerce membership dropped 8% in the last year, to just over 11,000, a substantial fall from the peak of 16,000 a few years ago, Chamber Chief Financial Officer R. John Kohlbrand said.

Ticket sales at the annual Conejo Valley Days extravaganza also plunged, but unexpectedly high concession and carnival ride revenue combined to put the event in the black by about $24,000, according to festival Chairman Walt Schaedle. That estimated profit would just cover last year's losses, he said.

Even as chamber leaders rested on their laurels, listening to recitations of the group's accomplishments, President Steve Rubenstein announced a handful of new initiatives.

Almost every speaker wore a red-and-black button emblazoned with the slogan "Buy Local" and the message "It's good business to do business in the Conejo"-- part of a new campaign to encourage residents to spend their sales-tax-generating dollars at home.

And this summer, the chamber will unveil a high-tech weapon for wooing new business to the area--a video extolling the virtues of life in Thousand Oaks.

"We're in this thing together," Rubenstein said. "Together, we can help one another build a better Conejo Valley."

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