New Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce President Valenzuela sees opportunities, even in times of crisis

Carla Valenzuela, president and chief executive officer of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
Carla Valenzuela beat out hundreds of candidates to become the new president and chief executive officer of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
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Businesses in Costa Mesa have not been spared the economic ravages of coronavirus closures and restrictions — those who know the city’s proprietors best are still bracing for what the full fallout of the pandemic might look like.

Into that fray enters Carla Valenzuela, who’s spent more than 20 years leading the business development and marketing efforts of major agencies and nonprofits, including Coastal Communities Hospital in Santa Ana, Los Angeles’ Shriners Hospitals for Children and, most recently, the Chula Vista Police Foundation.

In August, Valenzuela was selected among hundreds of candidates to serve as the president and chief executive of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce.


She follows former president Eileen Benjamin, who left the position Aug. 18 after four years with the chamber to head her own apparel business in San Diego County.

During their one shared day on the job, Valenzuela began the long process of acclimating to a new community and meeting city and business leaders she hopes will become collaborators as she helps guide local businesses through and out of pandemic circumstances.

“My mission and my passion has always been to align with organizations that advocate for the community and provide them with the information and the resources to help them thrive,” Valenzuela said. “And people have united and are connecting like never before.”

Carla Valenzuela, president and chief executive officer of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
Carla Valenzuela took over leadership of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce in August, succeeding former president and chief executive Eileen Benjamin.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Among her top goals are determining how members’ needs have changed in recent months, so the chamber can be even more of a resource, and reaching out to more Latino-owned businesses.

Growing up in Whittier as one of five children of Mexican immigrant parents, Valenzuela was taught the value of hard work early on and accepted her first job as a medical records file clerk at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital (PIH Health) at 16.

“I got a job as soon as I could get my work permit,” she said. “I was afforded many opportunities to work my way up the ladder by my work and dedication and willingness to learn.”

After several months of being mostly closed during the coronavirus pandemic, some 100 interior shops in the Costa Mesa shopping mall were reopened Monday and ready for business.

Aug. 31, 2020

Though her career began in hospital settings — she led teams at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center, Los Angeles’ Central City Community Health Center and Coastal Communities Hospital — Valenzuela developed skills that easily translated to other industries.

Benjamin said that acumen, coupled with what she called a strong “grace factor” made Valenzuela stand out as an ideal candidate.

“Carla has got a lot of experience with business and community development,” Benjamin said, recalling how Valenzuela followed up with thoughtful correspondences throughout the interview process. “We thought, if she’s going to treat us this way, this is how she’s going to treat our members.”

Benjamin acknowledged her successor is entering the business at a particularly perilous time — she estimated some 25% of businesses in Costa Mesa could permanently close during the pandemic — but said she’s confident in Valenzuela’s abilities.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley agreed.

“I’m already impressed with her outreach and enthusiasm,” Foley said. “Now more than ever, we must partner to support our many small businesses to recover quickly from COVID-19.”

A former charter member of the Whittier Optimist Club, Valenzuela says she sees ripe opportunities even amid crisis — opportunities to collaborate, reassess and connect in new ways.

“There’s so much to do and, yes, it’s a challenge,” she said. “[But] I’m always up for a challenge.”

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