Thursday, January 24, 2008

Local Commitment

Two individuals in Chico impressed me with both their commitment and investment back into the community. Both went to school at Chico State and have been investing in the town ever since.

Wayne Cook was a 1966 graduate who lived in Durham, NC and made his first fortune in investments in Florida. He moved back to Chico several years ago and started to make investments in old historic buildings in Chico’s wonderful downtown. One of his most memorable projects was the complete renovation of the Hotel Diamond where I stayed. This 1904 masterpiece featured one of the first automobiles in the town, a 16 passenger Studebaker that it used to shuttle guests to/from the train station. The hotel was shuttered in 1987 and sat vacant, a roosting place for pigeons. Wayne Cook started renovating the hotel in 2001, completing the project in 2005. I’m convinced that only a local person with a strong passion for this hometown, like a Wayne Cook, would ever make an investment like he made into an old downtown hotel.

Ken Grossman studied chemistry and physics at Chico State but his passion lay in home brewing. He opened a home brewing store in 1976, selling beer brewing supplies to other home brewers. Two years later he cobbled together a small brewing system from discarded dairy tanks and soft drink bottling equipment, naming the company Sierra Nevada for where he enjoyed going on long hikes. On November 15, 1980 the first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was offered to the public and the company has been growing ever since.

The product is still brewed in Chico, having grown numerous times from the small warehouse of its origin. In addition to the hundreds of jobs that the company provides, Grossman aggressively reinvests back into the community and is a well known philanthropist there.

It’s hard to properly judge the impact of people like Wayne Cook and Ken Grossman upon their hometowns. We need more of them in all of our small towns.

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