Sydney Lewis Sydney Lewis
Associate Manager, Communications


December 12, 2023


When Zeb Welborn, president and CEO of the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce, heard of the opportunity to become a Business Leads Fellow, he jumped at the opportunity. The Business Leads Fellowship Program, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, equips business leaders with resources and training to improve the connection between education systems, students, and workforce opportunities in their communities through workshops covering education and workforce topics.

The Chino Valley Chamber had started to explore work and workforce development and how the business community could foster innovative solutions through collaboration. Welborn, a member of cohort six, found so much value in the program that he encouraged and invited his colleague, Renay Sehgal Mehta, director of workforce development, to participate the following year.

Coming out of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chino Valley Chamber recognized the uptick in “Help Wanted” signs and began engaging with businesses to better understand the issues and struggles they were facing, and how the Chamber could help find innovative solutions. What they discovered was a common issue: a lack of qualified workers. Seeking to help their community solve this issue, Zeb embarked on his Business Leads Fellowship journey to learn more about workforce development, learn how to apply program findings, explore successful strategies from other communities, and equip their community with better preparedness for workforce-related issues. 

Both Zeb and Renay’s participation in Business Leads, gleans into both the power of impact and of peer collaboration, and the significance of knowledge sharing in addressing both new and ongoing challenges. Their learnings reflect how knowledge sharing bolsters communities.

“The biggest thing that I learned through the program was just how pervasive the workforce shortage is and is going to be,” said Zeb. “This isn’t something that is going away anytime soon, so it puts a fire under us to help do a better job in our work when it comes to workforce development in our community.” 

“If we don’t, other communities are going to be better prepared in that scenario than we are,” he continued. “They’re going to be the ones that are taking on our workforce, and we'll have people leaving the area, and they can just as easily work and bring value to our community here.”

Renay’s biggest takeaway from the program was the unique opportunity for collaboration with peers facing similar issues in their communities. “It was great to see the different workforce initiatives that they were implementing from different parts of the nation,” Renay noted. “I especially learned a lot about policy development from my peers from the state chambers and how they were implementing childcare initiatives.” 

Influenced by the insights gained in Business Leads, Zeb and Renay created a program called Upskill Chino Valley, solving the workforce shortage with a short term solution through a four-pronged approach:

  • Workforce development, including job referrals and placement services for youth.
  • Economic development
  • Entrepreneurship development
  • Leadership development

Through workforce development, the program helps develop leaders to build stronger relationships and retain members of their workforce. Entrepreneurship training helps entrepreneurs get to the point where they can actively hire and therefore contribute to the workforce and economy. Economic development initiatives help attract and retain businesses in the Chino Valley community. In its first year of execution, Upskill Chino Valley has proved successful, achieving every metric articulated and making an impact on workforce development issues in the region in both the short and long-term.

The Business Leads Fellowship Program paints a picture through collaboration of the issues facing collective communities and the role of chambers and economic development professionals.

“We work with a lot of other local chambers, and not a lot of other local chambers have taken on the responsibility of doing workforce development related issues,” says Zeb. “By getting connected in this program, we're connected with those chamber partners that do and then we have a contact point, somebody we can reach out to, and we can learn about programming that we could bring and implement into our communities to help make our community stronger.”

A visit to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters to collaborate with key stakeholders was a highlight of the program for Renay.

“If I was not a Fellow, I wouldn't have gotten the chance,” she remarked. “I'm part of a legacy now, right across the building that looks over the White House. Reading all the quotes from our Founding Fathers, it's been very impactful.”

The Business Leads Fellowship Program often serves as the entry-point for many chamber professionals to engage with the larger slate of workforce programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Zeb and Renay are both graduates of the award-winning Talent Pipeline Management®️ (TPM) Academy. The TPM framework will be implemented in the coming year, strengthening talent pipelines, and bolstering the economy of the Chino Valley region.

Learn more about the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Business Leads Fellowship Program.

About the authors

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis is associate communications manager for education, workforce and corporate citizenship at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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