The SLO Chamber’s new president and CEO, Jim Dantona, starts Jan. 2. But we just couldn’t wait to get to know him a little better.
So we grabbed a few minutes to find out more about what makes him tick – and to pose all those questions we didn’t get to in the interview process.
Dantona’s resume exhibits a serious guy with some serious chops in politics and economic development. For the past half-decade, he’s been a mover and shaker in Los Angeles government as chief of staff and get-it-done guy for City Council member Nury Martinez.
Meeting him reveals an affable guy who’s as quick to put you at ease as he is to grasp your concerns and goals. He’s worked extensively with chambers of commerce, businesses and other constituents building bridges on issues that resonate locally, including business expansion, land use, water and housing affordability.
He’s also no stranger to San Luis Obispo County, taking every possible opportunity to come spend time with family here and enjoy the spoils of the SLO life.
As he moves from frequent visitor to resident and Chamber top dog, join us in welcoming Jim with a few of our most pressing questions.
What are you most looking forward to tackling in your position as Chamber president/CEO?
Building on the forward-thinking work the community has already done to prepare for the closing of Diablo Canyon Power Plant and the impacts it will have on our region. An impressive array of people have come together to begin the critical tasks of building a resilient economy, creating new head-of-household jobs and determining the best use for Diablo’s extensive lands and facilities down the road.
The passage of SB 1090, the launch of the Hourglass Project, the Chamber’s new economic vision and other efforts have laid a promising foundation, and I look forward to lending my experience in economic development and community building – as well as my desire to preserve what made me want to be part of this community – to this crucial endeavor.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
The storm will end. To me it’s so important to remember that when you are enduring tough times. No matter what the situation, it will end and the sun does come out again. So don’t get too down when you’re in the eye of the storm.
What’s most marked characteristic?
Sense of humor! Whether I’m laughing at someone else’s funny comments or simply enjoying my own, I try to find a way to insert humor in most situations.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
(looks timidly over each shoulder) I play video games. I love jumping on the computer or the gaming console to get a few games in when I can.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest professional accomplishment came when management of the Van Nuys Airport (located in the Los Angeles council district I served) was going to close down the whole airport for 6 weeks in order to repair the runway. That closure plan would have required all of the businesses on the airport to essentially shut down and lay off all their employees for that time period. Additionally, operators might permanently lose business and employees, causing a massive economic failure – not to mention the impact to the ancillary businesses that are supported by the airport operation.
I was able to work with the Van Nuys Airport Association (operators on the airport) and Van Nuys Airport management to come up with an alternative plan that limited the full closure of the airport to just 6 days. That plan ended up preserving the economic vitality of the airport due to the limited interruption of business and employment.
When you’re not out saving jobs, how do you relax?
I always love bike riding. To me it is so relaxing being out in nature while riding my bike. I can’t wait to do it throughout San Luis.
What tops your list of things to do when you visit San Luis Obispo County?
Sampling some of the great wines the region produces, from the pinot noirs and chardonnays of South County to the syrahs and GSMs of North County. Not only are they some of the best wines California has to offer, they go great with the fresh, local food offered at so many restaurants throughout the area. No matter where you are in SLO County, it’s so easy to find great food and wine.
We hear you like musical theatre. What’s your favorite musical?
Jesus Christ Superstar. I watched my uncles perform in a local production when I was 6 and was blown away by it. It’s this wonderful blend of classical and rock music set to a powerful story.
Which of the Chamber’s core values do you find most personally meaningful?
I am a big believer in the Chamber’s core value of connecting diverse opinions. In my previous work experience, I have gotten the most satisfaction out of bringing differing perspectives together to find common ground and a solution. Whether we were discussing government policies that directly affected business or developments with community concerns, I have always found that what comes out of these discussions leads to a better overall finished product.