New chamber president Emily Falappino feels fortunate for opportunity to lead

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Growing up, Emily Falappino shuffled around, living in and outside the Temecula Valley for many years.

“I went between this little cow town called Temecula in the 1980s, and if I wasn’t in Temecula I was in a big city like LA,” Falappino said.

As she got older, the started to recognize the contrasting lifestyles between the two Southern California communities.

“Throughout my teenage years I would come out and visit and think, ‘Why would anyone live in Temecula?’” Falappino said. “Because as a teenager, I did not see the appeal. I remember when Target came in, and it was like the big deal. And teenagers used to hang out there at night because it was the only building that really had lighting in the parking lot. And I just would shake my head and disbelief and think, ‘Why would someone choose to live here?’”

Many years later, while living and working in Orange County as a single mother with a young daughter, Falappino said she needed to make a decision on where she was going to raise her daughter.

“I had to make some big decisions and had saved up some money and thought, ‘Where am I going to relocate us and find a forever home in a community where my daughter can have a really stable life and where would be a really good community to help me as a single mom?’” Falappino said. “But where is also the right community that lets me develop my career as a professional. And all of a sudden, this little town called Temecula came back to my mind.

“Suddenly I saw the appeal and thought, ‘I need to move back to Temecula Valley because quality of life exists there. It’s business-friendly. There’s a lot of opportunities, and there are just great people that will be a good community for me and my daughter.’”

Falappino initially bought a house in Menifee and later moved to Temecula. Though when she arrived, she didn’t have a job – her talent for writing business plans that she discovered during her time at Temecula Valley High School afforded her the opportunity to work and make connections.

“I was introduced to a couple, John and Kim Kelliher who owned Grapeline Wine Tours and a handful of other companies at this point, but they were pretty new to business,” she said.

Falappino got in on the ground floor of the business, doing wine tours part-time at one point, before ultimately ascending to the role of vice president of operations for Grapeline and Stryder Transportation.

“My daughter graduated from Rancho (Christian) a couple of years ago and moved off to college, and I thought, ‘Man, it’s time for me to find the next evolution of myself and where is that going to be?’” she said. “Ironically at that same time, the chamber opportunity was announced and came out and thought, ‘Well, gosh, that seems pretty special and really unique and very important to our community. I put my name in the hat and at the same time was talking to some other companies in the Los Angeles area.’”

It wasn’t long until one of those jobs in Los Angeles – what she thought was her dream job, in fact – offered her a position with everything she’d asked for.

“When I got the final offer in LA, I could not find the words literally to accept the job,” Falappino said. “And the gentleman offering me the job said, ‘I just gave you everything you wanted. This is the part where you say yes.’ And I couldn’t.”

Not long after, she was offered the position of president and CEO of the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, succeeding Alice Sullivan who served in the same role for almost 30 years.

“I have an opportunity to step in and be an influence and a help and a support and just reach so many people and businesses beyond myself – and that really matters,” Falappino said. “I was so grateful to be given that opportunity by the chamber. And I’m so happy to be in this role and capacity. And that is my why behind it, because I just love who Temecula is as a community of people. And I think that we still have so much potential and opportunity before us, but we’ve been raised up as such a special community with great leadership. And I think it’s really important that we continue to safeguard our leadership and our values.”

Following in the footsteps of Sullivan, Falappino recognizes the responsibility in making sure the boat is steered in the same direction while beginning to implement some of her abilities and agendas.

“(Sullivan) has been someone who I look at as an icon in this valley,” Falappino said. “She has been a major contributor to how our business economy has been shaped. How our community welfare has just been preserved. She has mentored so many individuals as professionals, and she’s been a voice over some pretty key initiatives over the years that have shaped this region. Her presence and her stature, we’re kind of branded in Alice fashion, and it is intimidating to step into the role because everyone expects something a little bit different as to how I might follow up her act. And as I look at it, I only want to serve all of her work well, and I want to balance the preservation along with progress.”

Falappino said there is a lot of good that Sullivan accomplished that needs no changing, it just needs to be supported.

“But there are also unprecedented opportunities just in a world of business and commerce and thinking and education,” she said. “We have an opportunity to be more progressive. And so, I want to hold on to both of those ideals, if you will, and gracefully manage them.

“I want to make sure that Alice or any of even her predecessors, like Perry Peters, would look at the work that I do and the leadership role that I fill and I would want them to be proud,” she said.

Falappino said she expects that over the next 10 years, there will be a significant change in the business landscape both in progress and in the changing of the guard in regard to leadership within the valley.

“When you look at the leadership in our valley that has brought us to this point in time and this quality of life, you see a number of leaders who have been a part of this for, like Alice, 30 years,” she said. “I mean, look at our Temecula city council. We see many of the same faces who have helped guide us to this point in time or city management staff, Pechanga’s leadership. Even within wine country, there is a generation of people who led us to this point.

“But let’s say 10 years from now it’s very likely that those leaders will no longer be serving in those same capacities,” she said. “And so as we’re going to have a big changeup in leadership, one of two things can happen. We can either digress and kind of stray from maybe the values, ideals and governing principles that they use to get us to this point. Or they can be embraced and further nurtured and protected. And that’s part of why I am very proud and happy to be in a position of influence and leadership here because I do want to make sure that I am constantly vigilant of the guiding principles and decision-making processes that gave us this quality of life.”

Her expectation of change is why she is focused on continually educating herself.

“The world around us is changing at such a fast pace with so many different innovations,” Falappino said. “That in itself would be a force to evoke change in our community. So, I want to be super aware of what’s happening in the world around us from thought, ideology, socioeconomically, trends and education, even big changes in how people work. I want to make sure that I’m staying abreast of what all of that is. So that is a leader I can be aware of those influences and factors and use them wisely here in the Temecula Valley.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.