Guy Occhiogrosso is CEO/President of Bellingham/Whatcom’s Chamber of Commerce.
What is your favorite spot in Bellingham?
It depends on the weather. There’s a turnout on Chuckanut Drive that I adore. There are several of them, but one in particular that has a spectacular view of the water. I love Birch Bay, too. And I love Horseshoe Bend Trail off Mount Baker Highway for an escape.
What’s the nutshell version of what you do?
The Chamber is a hub for the community, we like think of ourselves as the community’s front door. We are often the first stop for many people moving into the community, businesses hoping to expand, or anyone else who might want information about what’s going on in the community.
What do you like best about your job?
The people! In 9 years, I’ve never had a groundhog day. Every single day is different. I get to be among the first to know what’s happening, so I get to live on the cutting edge, especially in regards to business.
What do people not understand about the Chamber?
Usually it’s how we’re funded. A lot of people assume that we report to some hierarchy of chambers of commerce from around the world, or that we’re part of the city government. Neither of those is true. We’re completely independent, and funded entirely by our members.
What would you like most to see in Bellingham?
I’d love to see a convention space that would be large enough to bring in larger entertainment options. We’re located right between Vancouver and Seattle, so we have tons of entertainment within driving distance. But I’d love to see a larger performance and entertainment space right here in town so we could bring top-tier acts here to the city.
Is there a Bellingham restaurant, brewery, or store the world needs to know about?
The steakhouse at the Silver Reef. It’s an excellent overall experience.
For brewery’s, Boundary Bay is still the cream of the crop.
The Northwest Washington Fair—agriculture is a huge part of our community, and nothing showcases it quite like the fair does.
Willows Inn gets a lot of press, and it’s well deserved. It’s just a gem.
Camel Safari. Who knew there were an abundance of camels in the county?!
Mount Baker Theatre—another gem.
What’s your favorite spot downtown?
I love the history in our community. I really love the way that the museum has preserved it.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I’m reading The Well Balanced World-Changer right now, and it’s quite good. It’s written in little almost devotional snippets. Also, Confronting Capitalism is next, and I’m excited about it. I’ve read good things about it, and I’m looking forward to it. It challenges some of my ideas about business and capitalism, and I always enjoy learning about new or different perspectives.
What are people surprised to learn about you?
That I’m southern. I don’t sound like it, but I am from Louisiana.
If you could re-enroll at Western today what would you study?
Interestingly, I did that. A few years ago, I went back and got my MBA through their evening program. If I were going back today, I’d probably focus on the psychology of business or organizational management. Other interests through local higher education would be the community education at Whatcom or maybe the culinary program at Bellingham Tech.
Is there a special cause or or that you’re excited about?
I have three.
The Food Bank—our food banks are used way too much, but ours is doing a great job responding to a frighteningly high demand for their programs.
The Boy’s and Girl’s Club—they’re creating a bright future for our children.
The Opportunity Council—best all around, they do a great job with everything they set their hands to.
Why should someone join the chamber?
To make business connections, and better our business community. We have 31 distinct programs, initiatives, and events. We work hard to grow our members’ businesses, and bettering the business community as a whole.