By Miriam Raftery
April 3, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)--Many might find it daunting to head up a major business association during the worst recession in 80 years. But Scott Alevy, new President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, has been in far tougher spots.
Those include combat zones in Southeast Asia and the crash site of PSA flight 182 in San Diego, where Alevy headed up public relations for the airline after the tragedy that claimed the lives of friends and colleagues.
In an exclusive interview with East County Magazine, Alevy shared insights gained from his experiences, as well as his leadership goals and vision for the Chamber’s future.
“The East County is a terrific place to work, live and achieve your goals,” says Alevy, who resides in Blossom Valley with his wife, Joanne, and their 11 rescued animals.
Alevy replaced former El Cajon Police Chief Cliff Diamond at the Chamber's leadership post on January 1st. Principal at Trilogy PR Group in La Mesa, he brings over 30 years of business, non-profit and Chamber of Commerce leadership experience to the largest business organization in eastern San Diego County. His professional experience includes public relations, government relations, community outreach, and broadcast media.
A military veteran, he has also served as a Chula Vista Councilman, led public policy and communications at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and served as external affairs director for SBC/AT&T for a decade.
Born and raised in Long Beach, Alevy studied broadcast journalism at the University of California and worked in broadcasting for many years. He later worked for PSA, but after a fuel shortage led to layoffs in the early 1970s, he entered the U.S. Air Force.
“I ended up as an Armed Forces broadcaster overseas,” said Alevy, whose duties included “top secret” work in southeast Asia.
After leaving the service, he returned to working at PSA in Los Angeles, later transferring to San Diego where he was soon put in charge of the airline’s public relations department.
“My first day in PR was September 25, 1978,” recalls Alevy, who says he felt “numb” upon hearing that PSA flight 182 had collided with a Cessna. The midair collision over San Diego’s North Park killed all 135 people on board as well as nine people on the ground, making it the worst air disaster in California history.
It also took a heavy toll on PSA personnel. The company had just 35 employees. “I knew at least a dozen people on the plane…I was supposed to be on it,” said Alevy, adding that a change in his social plans fortuitously kept him from losing his life on that fateful day. “All of a sudden, all my friends were gone.”
Before the crash, Alevy had flown thousands of miles as a passenger and was also a pilot. “I never wanted to get in a cockpit again,” he said. Some employees who went to the crash site also suffered trauma. “One guy who had been on the site ultimately committed suicide,” said Alevy, who recalls the entire staff getting very little sleep while doing their jobs in the wake of the tragedy.
Alevy reflects that the experience “changed everybody’s life. It probably changed me more than being in a combat zone, because it was so persona. It changed my priorities regarding life and what was important in life….Did it make me a better father? Maybe not. Did it make me a more understanding father?” reflects Alevy, whose son now attends San Diego State University and daughter is a student at a middle high school in Point Loma. “Probably so. A scraped knee is just not a big thing.”
He went back into operations for PSA in San Francisco, married his second and current wife, Joanne, and moved back to San Diego. Soon he got back into broadcasting for KIFM Z-90 radio and Y-95 with the Jeff and Jer show.
His first involvement in politics came when he helped persuade Padre Dam municipal water district to provide a variance on water rate hikes for homeowners in high fire-risk areas who needed to keep landscaping green within 100 feet of their homes. He also formed Citizens Rejecting Airport Siting Height (CRASH), successfully leading efforts to block San Diego’s TwinPorts binational airport proposal.
He volunteered to work on political campaigns for several candidates, including Chula Vista Mayor Tim Nader. Nader appointed Alevy to fill a Council seat vacated by Bob Fox, who had been remanded by a grand jury to resign with two years left in the term. For Alevy, the job came with an ethical imperative.
“I made a promise not to seek reelection as an incumbent,” Alevy recalled. Although he enjoyed serving on the council, he kept his word. “I had two young children,” he reflected. “How could I expect them to be honest if I wasn’t?”
He went on to spend a decade with the phone company and expand his work in public affairs.
“I am a registered lobbyist,” says Alevy, who met with Chamber of Commerce eladers in that capacity before later assuming a leadership role with the San Diego Chamber and now, the San Diego East County Chamber. He is quick to point out that he does not have conflicts of interest in his new role, assuring none of his current clients have business interests with the East County Chamber.
The San Diego East County Chamber recently celebrated its centennial--and is now beginning its second hundred years representing businesses in our region.
“I’m very committed to the Chamber. I’m a very pro-business guy,” he says, noting key distinctions between the San Diego and East County chambers. “Ninety percent of our members have less than 50 employees,” he observed. While the downtown Chamber’s board is made of mainly of representatives from big businesses, East County Chamber’s board members are mostly small business owners. “The real important issues that we face as a Chamber impact small businesses more,” he added.
His goals include getting better group health and dental insurance coverage for members, as well as education for Chamber members on how new healthcare reforms may impact their companies.
“We’re also in the infant stages of forming an infrastructure and land use committee,” he disclosed. “So we’ll be able to take a position on highways, water, land use and infrastructure issues from a pro-business look and decide do we want to make a recommendation and take a position,” he said, noting that Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) now serves on the Congressional infrastructure committee.
He noted that the Chamber has several other key committees, such as the Government Affairs Committee which keeps an eye on legislations, the Ambassador Committee to welcome new members, and the Business and Education Committee which participates in efforts to help K-12, college and vocational education. He also praised the Chamber’s leadership training program. “I’ve talked about a half-day boot camp with alumni, to have key leaders come in,” he said.
He cites a need for more education, too, on the benefits of redevelopment, citing concerns over the Governor’s proposal to cut redevelopment funds. He believes having a “lesser environment for businesses” would be a negative and cites Santee’s Trolley extension, Santee Lakes and downtown La Mesa as “tremendous” examples of redevelopment. “Police stations, civic centers, parks and infrastructure, too, are all RDA funds.”
Unlike the national and state chambers of commerce, the San Diego East County Chamber does not have a political action committee (PAC) to support political candidates. While the Chamber does meet with legislators on key issues, it does not spend members’ funds on political action which can be potentially divisive.
First and foremost, Alevy strives to “be a good example. That means educate people, be fair, and not assuming any political point of view.”
Chamber Chair Joe Mackey praised Alevy as a strong addition to the organization. “Scott hit the ground running, and we are excited about what he brings to our organization,” Mackey said in the Chamber’s announcement of Alevy taking the helm. “His wealth of experience, knowledge and ideas about how to lead a business organization are already making a difference. He is committed to represent ting the interests of the East County business community and enhancing our Chamber.”