By Karen Pearlman
Two business groups want to attract new members
EAST COUNTY — Many Chaldean Americans have run convenience stores, gas stations and liquor establishments, but they are increasingly making their presence felt in other ventures in the San Diego County business world.

From pizza place owners to medical practitioners, from home remodelers to Realtors, the list of businesses owned by those of Middle Eastern background is on the uptick.

This is especially true in the East County, where some 27,000 of an estimated 50,000 Chaldeans living in San Diego County reside.

So it’s no surprise that a chamber of commerce would form to help the growing community of business-minded immigrants interact, collaborate, connect and network.

The surprise, however, may be that there are two such chambers wooing members in East County.

It’s been nearly a year since Ben Kalasho started the San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. Kalasho, 30 is a Valhalla High School alum and one-time El Cajon City Council candidate who owns a gas station and carwash in Santee.

While the organization doesn’t have an official home base, Kalasho said sites in downtown El Cajon and La Mesa are being considered. The San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce has close to 120 members. The cost to join comes in various tiers starting at $75 for individuals up to $1,000 for “all the perks.”

Helix Water District recently jumped on board and Kalasho said the goal is 1,000 members in five years for the all-volunteer organization. It has had several board meetings and get-togethers and members are planning a fundraising golf tournament and a “Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant” in the spring.

The group’s next mixer is at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Grossmont Center. Cost is $10, and the theme will be medical related, with guest speaker Paul Arvanitis of Doctors Express.

Arvanitis is not Chaldean, and already belongs to the Santee Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego East County Regional Chamber of Commerce, but said he joined this third group because he felt there is a need to reach out to the Chaldean community, “to extend ourselves and the community about the service we offer.”

Kalasho said his board has several non-Chaldeans serving and would keep it that way, but that its focus would be helping the businesses run by Chaldeans.

“We are trying to uplift the Chaldean community through professionalism and education,” Kalasho said.

Johnny Oram, a management consultant and onetime board member of the Michigan-based Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, is the head of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce of California, based in the Hazard Center area of Mission Valley.

Oram said a Chaldean-centered chamber has been his passion since 2008, but only recently has he been able to get it off the ground. Oram has been running the chamber even as he has been living part-time in suburban Detroit to be close to medical facilities for a daughter fighting an illness. The 38-year-old St. Augustine High School graduate says he is moving back to the East County to stay in early 2014.