Some entrepreneurs in Draper praise Rafael Cabrera and his year-old association, the South Valley Business Alliance, for helping them thrive.
Others say that his involvement in this year's Draper Days has offended some longtime participants, even deterred them from being part of the city celebration.
Cabrera is recruiting exhibitors for the Draper Days business expo, to be held July 22 at Draper Park. Some residents thought they heard him say they had to pay $100 to become Alliance members before they could participate, but Cabrera now says no, that's not obligatory. Draper Days organizer Amber Peterson confirmed that businesses don't have to pay a cent to participate in the expo.
"He's caused some problems by telling people they have to join the Alliance," said Peterson. Cabrera, she added, comes on a bit strong for some of the volunteers.
"To them, I'm a New Yorker with an attitude. People around here are much more laid back," said Cabrera, who came to Utah from Bogota, Colombia, via New York City. He ran the Spring City Cafe in Sanpete County before moving to Herriman two years ago. He now owns Rubicon Direct Marketing, a graphic design and printing company. Last summer, Cabrera shook up the surrounding communities by founding the Alliance and publishing a monthly newspaper, the Voice. He estimates that the Alliance now has 163 members.
These people need something more than the old chambers of commerce have given them, Cabrera added.
"They (chambers) are not doing their jobs. People are disenchanted with them," and they spend too much time socializing at golf tournaments, luncheons and meandering meetings, he said.
Some chamber members, and others who belong to the Alliance, say Cabrera could use some social skills. His zeal as a recruiter is too much for some people, said Kris Martinez, a member of both the Alliance and the Draper Area Chamber of Commerce.
"It's just his personality," she said. The Alliance, Martinez added, "has helped me grow my business. And I enjoy the people I've met in the group," Martinez said. "I know (Cabrera) has some animosity toward other chambers. But he knows I'm involved with some others, and that it's in my best interests to be involved in them."
Gary Mackler, owner of Draper Health and Fitness, added that Cabrera is "interested in our success. Rafael was just there. The Draper Chamber wasn't. I mean, it was available," but nobody from the chamber sought Mackler out when he opened his club last fall. Mackler said that he understands the Draper chamber is run by part-time staff people who are preoccupied with their own businesses, so they don't have as much time to spend on chamber members as Cabrera might. Cabrera considers running the Alliance and the Voice his full-time job or as a second full-time job along with operating Rubicon.
But "I'd advise (Cabrera) not to knock another group," Mackler said. "All of the chambers are striving to help businesses."
Many people join the local chamber "because they believe it's the right thing to do," said Glenn Cobb, chief of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce.
"It's not my patriotic duty. I think that's a joke," Cabrera retorted. If he's going to give money to an organization, he'd "rather donate to Deseret Industries or the Red Cross."
Sandy chamber members pay $215 in annual dues, while Draper's yearly dues start at $125.
Cobb says he works hard on legitimate projects to help promote the chamber's members. The Sandy chamber, he added, maintains a working relationship between business owners and city government, a relationship that benefits both as the city grows. The Sandy chamber publishes the bi-monthly Progress Business Journal, sponsors networking groups and has 550 members.
That many people wouldn't belong to Sandy's chamber if it didn't benefit them, said member Ed Roberson. "If you look at the memberships of the local chambers, they speak for themselves," he said.
Draper Area Chamber President Erin Sugiyama said Cabrera's Alliance "makes us more competitive, and that's good." Draper's chamber, like Sandy's, works with city officials on zoning issues, alcohol licensing and making the town more newcomer-friendly, Sugiyama added. This month it published "Invest in Draper," a glossy city guide.
Sugiyama said she's not worried about members leaving her chamber and joining the Alliance. But she added that some Draperites are worried that Cabrera will pull out of Draper Days as he did from Herriman Days.
Cabrera was to be the chief promoter of Herriman Days from June 17-24, but he said Herriman officials didn't keep their promise of advertising Herriman Days only through Alliance channels. Herriman Mayor Lynn Crane wanted to use other media, too, according to Cabrera. Crane said only that "We had a misunderstanding."
Cabrera said Herriman officials — and some chamber leaders — don't understand his high-powered approach to marketing and promotion. The local chambers, he said, don't do enough. His Alliance instead has curriculum-driven meetings in which business owners learn quick presentation skills — they give pitches that are timed to 30 seconds, so they don't stretch the meetings too far past members' attention spans.
Other chambers "don't like me because . . . all of a sudden there's somebody to compete with, and that's a scary thing."
Roberson, of the Sandy chamber, said Cabrera is "very, very motivated. His Alliance has a tremendous amount of worth, but it's somewhat impeded by Rafael's agenda . . . of hammering on the chambers of commerce."