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Palo Alto Chamber celebrates 100 years

Centennial event saluted past and future of the city's businesses

Citing the HP garage as a symbol of how Palo Alto business has evolved in the last 100 years, Mayor Pat Burt greeted an eclectic crowd of business owners -- from mom-and-pops to technology giants -- at the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce's centennial celebration Thursday evening.

The celebration looked both to the past and the future, with large-screen slides displaying historical images and business booths from Facebook to Space Systems/Loral and biofuel-enzyme innovators Genencor.

HP, of course, was also there.

The event was held at Tesla Motors headquarters in Stanford Research Park and included many of the city's movers and shakers, including JB Straubel, Tesla's chief technical officer; Dan Dykwel, the chamber's board chair; sponsors Tjerk de Ruiter, Genencor CEO, and Valerie Junger, Loral vice president of human resources.

The Palo Alto chamber dates to 1910, with one of original members still in business in the city: Congdon & Crome.

Burt reflected on how Palo Alto has been the seat of transformational technology. The garage on Addison Avenue is symbolic of that change, he said. It was built in 1924 when automobiles first replaced the horse and buggy, and it became the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Looking forward, Palo Alto continues to be on the cutting edge of emerging technologies.

"A Tesla parked in front of the HP garage -- that's the future," he said.

Paula Sandas, chamber CEO and president, said Palo Alto has a "unique and special business community based on people who went to Stanford." But "we really have to support small business. We're in the process of really re-examining how we serve our members," she said.

"When you look at the list of past presidents what you see are the names of familiar people, of familiar families that started in the shoe business," she said.

Dykwel said the next 100 years would focus on more integration with the city to promote and support businesses. Smaller businesses want help with events and marketing, and larger businesses want advocacy at the local, regional and state levels, he said.

"We try to be realistic in what we can accomplish. We try to find a common thread and to be effective in a few areas," he said.

Mike Arbige, Genencor vice president of technology, said the company came to Palo Alto in 1996 after spinning off from biotechnology corporation Genentech of South San Francisco.

As Genencor grew, the company found it did not receive the support it needed to find space from South San Francisco leaders. City leaders told the company "we would never leave the shadow of Genentech," he said.

But Palo Alto embraced the company. The city wanted Genencor to be an anchor to attract other science-driven companies, he said.

"Palo Alto understood what we needed," he said.

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