They're with the business community, and they're here to help.
It's Bakersfield's new twist on Ronald Reagan's famous criticism of government intervention. Instead of government representatives going door to door, a local business coalition plans to blanket the city's main commercial centers with quick surveys geared to connect entrepreneurs with resources that might help them.
The plan is to dispatch six dozen local volunteers to interview more than 450 businesses centered around nine hubs -- and pull the whole thing off in one hour, from 10 to 11 a.m. Jan. 31.
Other cities have done it but this is Bakersfield's first experiment in mass, boots-on-the-ground business outreach. The leader of the effort, the head of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, said the three-to-five-minute surveys may become a yearly activity if they work.
"Thus far the reception and the interest has been very high, and I think a lot of people ... say, 'Wow, it's a great idea -- count us in.'" said Cindy Pollard, the chamber's new president and CEO. She added that her group first heard about such surveys through CalChamber, a statewide chamber organization.
Participating businesses and other organizations are too many to list (nearly 50), but they range from a car dealer (Jim Burke Ford Lincoln) and an oil company (Hathaway LLC) to a food grower and processor (Grimmway Farms) and a pair of banks (Citizens Business Bank and Rabobank N.A.). Also involved are various educational institutions and local business groups such as the Downtown Business Association and the Kern Economic Development Corp. Representatives from the City of Bakersfield and the County of Kern plan to take part as well, including a few elected officials.
To be sure, the event, dubbed Business Walk 2013, will offer volunteers valuable networking opportunities, not just an opportunity to contribute to local economic development.
"It's an opportunity for me to go out and kind of get to know more of the businesses in the community that I wouldn't normally go see," said Dana Miller, a Bakersfield employee-partner with a St. Louis-based commercial furniture and design company, Indoff Commercial Interiors. She was recruited to participate in the survey event because she is a member of the chamber's Ambassadors Committee.
Sara Mendez, owner of Mendez Media Marketing Inc., wrote in an email Tuesday that her company's participation was a "no-brainer."
"As a local business owner, there are many difficulties we face. Rising costs, difficulty finding proper/experienced staff, as well as many other economical, social and political issues we face here every day," she wrote.
"It would be great to have additional (500 more) businesses provide their feedback, concerns, experiences as well so we can all come together to support one another and ideally change for the better; create incentives for small businesses to move here or expand here, find quality staff, networking opportunities that don't cost so much that the same small businesses trying to make things better can't be involved, etc."
Pollard said the focus will be on mid-size and small businesses, mainly because large companies typically follow their own corporate plans. Surveyors are to be given a location and a target number of businesses to hit, she said.
Survey results are expected to be distributed to colleges, government agencies and other business outreach organizations in late March or April. Pollard said the results will also figure into the chamber's future lobbying efforts and business growth initiatives.