Melissa James steps from the Chamber to
the new regional economic development organization

Two years ago, the announcement that Diablo Canyon Power Plant would close added urgency to a growing awareness that the Central Coast faces grave economic challenges.

The Diablo closure will result in the loss of 1,500 head-of-household jobs on the Central Coast. Recognizing this painful truth along with the fact that our area is losing companies and opportunities for our middle class and families, the SLO Chamber created a position to generate economic initiatives and regional advocacy. The organization hired a seasoned hand, Melissa James, to lead the effort.

In her work at the Chamber, James brought area businesses and stakeholders together under the banner of regionalism—she championed the idea that by working together and breaking down community silos, the Central Coast can generate exponential success for all residents.

Hourglass ProjectThe Hourglass Project is the next iteration of this vision—and James has been named as its new president and CEO.

“Hourglass embodies the ‘We Before Me’ spirit – a core theme of Imagine SLO – the Chamber’s economic vision,” noted Clint Pearce, 2019 SLO Chamber board chair. “Particularly with Melissa at its helm, Hourglass represents a strategic community partner and increased capacity to stimulate our regional economy.”

Led and funded primarily by the private sector, the Hourglass Project will work with government, education and nonprofit partners to increase high-quality jobs across the Central Coast Super Region—from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Camp Roberts.

“The Hourglass Project will provide the platform for regional collaboration to happen which is critical for us all. By coming together at a region-wide scale we will be able to make long-range decisions that are in the best interest of the Central Coast as a whole,” said Jim Dantona, SLO Chamber President and CEO. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with Melissa and the Hourglass Project to create a vibrant economic future for the next generations.”

Melissa brings to her new role, a strong background in public policy, advocacy and economic development and deep connections in the business community.

“I remain ever-grateful to the Chamber for opening my eyes to the exciting possibilities we can cultivate for our community when the business community is networked and mobilized to solve problems,” said James. “While the challenges are great, the opportunities before us are greater.”


● Ty Safreno, Founder & CEO, Trust Automation, Board Chair
● Ryan Caldwell, CEO, Wacker Wealth Partners
● Chuck Davison, CEO, Visit SLO CAL
● Gina Fitzpatrick, CEO, Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce
● Ed Halpin, Former Chief Nuclear Officer and SVP Generation, PG&E
● Ermina Karim, Former CEO, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce
● Derek Kirk, CEO, Atascadero Chamber of Commerce
● Bob Linscheid, Senior Advisor for Economic Development, Cal Poly
● Glenn Morris, CEO, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce
● Clint Pearce, CEO, Madonna Enterprises