ENCINITAS — In 2011, Bob Gattinella took on one of the more unenviable rebuilding jobs, taking the helm of the embattled Encinitas Chamber of Commerce as its executive director.
The Chamber had been mired in controversy and books were deep in the red.
A 2009 column in the San Diego Union-Tribune had the headline “Get a load of chamber follies in Encinitas,” an indication of the dysfunction surrounding the business-advocacy organization.
Nine years later, Gattinella, 67, and his wife Mimi, the chamber’s director of operations, are retiring from their respective positions after spearheading a remarkable turnaround that sees the Chamber of Commerce both restored in reputation and financial footing.
“Under Bob’s direction, the chamber has become a leader in advocating for and providing vital resources to the business community,” said Alex Meade, the chairman of the chamber’s board. “The chamber and business community cannot thank Bob and Mimi enough for their endless passion and willingness to give back in an effort to strengthen our city’s economic landscape. We will truly miss them.”
The couple’s last day will be July 31, and the chamber has begun a search for Bob Gattinella’s replacement.
Gattinella said that his biggest accomplishment as executive director was the turnaround in the chamber’s reputation.
“I’d say it was bringing the chamber from the edge of oblivion and bankruptcy to being a stable community organization,” Gattinella said when asked what he felt was his greatest accomplishment. “It was really bad when we got here.”
In the years before Gattinella, the chamber, which has been around more than 50 years, saw two of its previous executive directors resign, including one of whom left under a cloud of scrutiny following an ominous financial audit and later unsuccessfully sued the chamber for defamation of character.
The chamber struggled financially after being saddled with financial woes due to the recession and an ill-timed move into a new location right at the start of the nation’s financial crisis, among other things.
Gattinella first joined the chamber as a member of the board of directors in 2010 before taking the executive director position in spring 2011.
Since then, he and his wife, Mimi, worked to boost membership from its recession-level lows and restore community events, such as its popular Oktoberfest.
The Gattinellas became synonymous with the chamber, with Mimi Gattinella working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring her husband’s vision to life.
“Bringing to life Bob’s vision, Mimi was the backbone and driving force behind the chamber’s
success,” Meade said. “Many new businesses are thriving and giving back to the community thanks to Bob and Mimi’s commitment and dedication to supporting all businesses in Encinitas.”
The chamber also sponsors the annual Mayor’s State of the City Address, which is regularly sold out, business ribbon cuttings and monthly “sundowner” mixers at various businesses.
While membership hasn’t returned to the levels in 2006 — largely due to the emergence of the community’s three MainStreet Associations — Gattinella said that he’s been pleased with the chamber’s growth since the recession.
“There’s a lot of competition out there for members that are business owners,” Gattinella said, alluding to the MainStreet groups. “But I’m proud with what we have been able to accomplish.”
The Gattinellas will likely head back to Palm Springs for the time being to attend to their construction business, but hope to return to Encinitas in the near future.
Gattinella said that he will most miss how being the face of the chamber allowed him to really become entrenched in Encinitas.
“I’ll miss going to some of the meetings, the information meetings put on by some of the utilities, and meeting regularly with city personnel,” he said. “It gives you a much more in depth perspective of what is going on in the community. For the first 10 years I lived in Encinitas, I hardly knew anybody. Now, when I walk down the street, I definitely feel like I am a local.”