While living for a time in Southern California to help with the care of a grandparent, Morgan Gace started climbing the corporate ladder at Starbucks while earning a degree in psychology. During this time, Gace also began to utilize the leadership training of John Maxwell, and she began her own business.
Gace met her husband, Robert, while living in Southern California, and the two eventually moved to the Bay Area for his work with Ferguson Enterprises. Calaveras County is centrally located for Robert’s work, and the two settled in San Andreas about two years ago.
What follows is a conversation between Gace and Enterprise Editor Marc Lutz. It has been edited for space.
Calaveras Enterprise: How did you come to be in Calaveras County?
Morgan Gace: We always intended for the Bay Area to be a stop, because our dream was to live in a place where we could breathe. So, we had looked at a number of different places. We decided that we were going to look in Northern California. Calaveras is a straight shot from where we were in Pleasanton. We started coming out here for weekends just to enjoy. We came to events like the Wild West Fest, things like that, and it just felt like this is a place where we could live.
Originally, we put a bid on a place in Copper, but we’re really grateful we got the place in San Andreas. It’s a beautiful home, great property to develop, and we started our own goat herd (laughs). We have goats now. We’re planning to be a part of the farm bureau and get involved that way because – if you asked anyone from my childhood or even up until five years ago if I would be living in a rural area like this, and with livestock and things like that, people would laugh at me. It actually has kind of become my element. I love it.
It’s been a learning experience, but the people I’ve met up here have been so golden. I’ve really formed some treasured relationships with people up here. It definitely feels like home.
CE: What do you see as the potential for Calaveras County?
MG: I align it a lot with the potential for another Gold Rush. Here’s why I say that: There’s a wealth of history, obviously. When I moved here, being a business owner, I was still doing a lot virtually. I was still going to the Bay, I was still going to Sacramento, Southern California, and I needed to find a community of other business owners. Unfortunately, a lot of things I heard when I first moved here were, “It’s hard to do business in Calaveras County,” “It’s hard to be successful in Calaveras County.” I am an eternal optimist. I refuse to believe that. So, what I wanted to do was link arms, connect with other people. I actually started a group … in Sonora. I met some local business owners there. I saw the power of that. One of the first people I met was at a chamber event in Calaveras, and she came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re relatively young. We should be friends.” That was literally the introduction. She’s been a staple in the community, and she’s connected me to other people. Since then, it’s been such a thrill of mine to meet and share and grow together.
When I heard about (the chamber of commerce CEO) position, I wasn’t looking for a job; it wasn’t something that wasn’t important to me. But when I heard about it, it felt like it was so in line with my DNA. It was kind of what I was doing already; connecting with businesses and trying to support them and help them grow and be prosperous. It made sense that I could do that within the great entity of a chamber of commerce.
CE: What are the challenges ahead for the chamber of commerce?
MG: Moving forward is absolutely showing our membership that we can create value and help them and support them – being that kind of grounding foundation where they can come to learn more, or to get connections, or to have advocacy to support business.
Taxing is obviously huge for businesses. I’ve already been out to a number of businesses since (starting the position two weeks ago), things like (taxes) hit heavy. It hits heavy when you have a local business that gets blindsided when a new, larger business is coming in. I see the chamber as being a support for that. Instead of it being, “If they come in, we can’t exist,” (to being) a way that we can continue to thrive and support the small businesses and have enough seats at the table promoting everyone. It can be all of us.
CE: What types of functions would you like to see happen throughout the year?
MG: The events that we have were created for a reason, and I do see that. What I want to do is tap back into our membership and find out what they found of most value. We’ve even kind of reconfigured some of that. The mixers we’re definitely planning to mix up this year, and not just have the standard we had before. It worked for a time, but with anything, there’s an ebb and flow. Right now, with the changing landscape of the businesses, there’s a lot of young new business owners right here in San Andreas. There are neat things happening in Moke Hill. There are wonderful things happening, of course, in Angels and Copper. What I want to do is tap into that, and maybe help transition the chamber because we are in the next phase of supporting. What we had worked for a while in some ways – some ways maybe not. Specifically, our installation dinner, which is going to be on (Jan. 31), is always going to be an important part of our heritage because we want to honor the local businesses and keep that same vision (of focusing) on them. We have the tri-county chamber golf tournament that Calaveras County will always be a part of. But we are going to challenge the status quo. We had Good Morning Calaveras on a monthly basis. We’re going to start holding them on a quarterly basis. What we’re going to try to do with that is bring in more materials, so there’s the information part, but there’s also a growing part and a learning part, which is important to each of our businesses.
Time is something that most places don’t have. If you’re a small business, you don’t have the luxury of sending someone or paying an exorbitant amount of money to have them go somewhere. Moving forward, in looking at workshops and things we can provide, is definitely going to be weighed against that, understanding that people need the biggest bang for their buck.
CE: How would you reassure the business community you’re here for the long haul?
MG: I can tell you a number of things: I live here. I bought a house here. My husband told me already this is our final home. He doesn’t even want to move to another place in Calaveras. My parents are moving up here. We are building another house for them on our property. I can tell you about those relationships I’ve already built, but trust has to be earned. I understand the membership; the community has a lot of questions around that, especially with the (CEO) turnover. I fully intend to be patient and earn (that trust). I know this is a tough area to accept newcomers because there are generations here. So, I appreciate that. There are also a lot of people who have moved here. I’m not the only person from the Bay. I hope to be an example of a better Bay Area transplant.
I recognize that I’ve already hit some walls. That’s OK, I get it. Just know it doesn’t deter me. I’m not afraid of that. I understand that sometimes it’s getting up just one more time, asking you one more time.
I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone and building those connections.