Chamber Mixer Revs Up Interest in Auto Academy

(Photos by David Laurell) - Dana “Big Dane” Florence and Jay Murphy of West Coast Customs welcomed Theresa Ayers and Mary Anne Been to last week’s chamber mixer.

First published in the Sept. 3 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

When Jamie Keyser Thomas took over as CEO of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce two years ago, she did so with a vision. From her first day on the job, she began reaching out to every segment of the community in hopes of integrating the business advocacy group into the local schools, nonprofit organizations, the faith-based community and other entities not normally associated with a chamber of commerce.
This past week, in her continued effort to see that vison become a reality, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce gave members and guests the opportunity to tour West Coast Customs, the vehicle customization company that has done shows such as “Pimp My Ride” and “Street Customs” for MTV, Discovery, Fox Sports 2 and Motor Trend.
The evening also provided attendees with insight about a program the custom car builders are doing in partnership with the Burbank Unified School District, and to learn about how homelessness is being addressed in Burbank.
As a part of the organization’s ongoing “What’s Brewing In Burbank?” mixers, Keyser Thomas was joined by chamber member services director Leslie Smith, board members and ambassadors in welcoming more than 150 guests to the 60,000-square-foot Empire Avenue facility owned by Ryan Friedlinghaus.
West Coast Customs, which has created vehicles for myriad celebrities, studios and corporate entities, and made Burbank its home in 2014, has recently launched the West Coast Customs Academy (WCCA), a year-long training program that will provide courses and give hands-on experience to young people in auto body work, upholstery fabrication and all aspects of vehicle repair, restoration and customization.
It is also working with the Burbank Unified School District and the Burbank Adult School in providing opportunities for Burbank students.

  • BL On The Town 2
    BL On The Town 2
  • BL On The Town 3
    BL On The Town 3
  • BL On The Town 4
    BL On The Town 4
  • BL On The Town 5
    BL On The Town 5

School Superintendent Matt Hill, who addressed the assemblage during last week’s event, praised Friedlinghaus for having the foresight to establish this vocational training program.
“Ryan had a vision to do an academy for students 18 and older, to help them get jobs right out of school,” Hill said. “When he brought the idea to us we were on-board right away. We rolled up our sleeves and made it happen.”
Among those in attendance at the mixer was Andi Tesoro, who serves as the program director of the WCCA. She said the organization’s goal is to provide training to between 25 to 50 students per year.
“This is the first academy of its kind, and our 48-week program will provide first-class training to those who desire a career in vehicle customization and the auto aftermarket trades,” Tesoro said.
Last week’s chamber mixer also provided a spotlight for executive director of the Burbank-based Home Again Los Angeles, Albert Hernandez, and representatives of the Burbank Housing Authority to provide the gathering with information about the city’s Homeless Incentive Program (HIP).
“The chamber of commerce and our local business community have been a special partner for us,” Hernandez said. “They have always supported us in so many ways, and that collaboration is the only way we can do what we do. There is no one organization who can solve the homeless crisis. It can only be done by our partnering with everyone in our community.”
This past Monday, as she reflected on last week’s mixer, Keyser Thomas said she has been so glad to see things come together in making the chamber an integral part of the fabric of the Burbank community.
“Our board and I have envisioned these events to be open to everyone, not just chamber members,” Keyser Thomas said.
“We want our ‘What’s Brewing In Burbank?’ mixers to be events in which people can discover nuggets about what is going on in Burbank and to see venues they would otherwise never see, or even know that they exist. They are also great ways to meet people, network, and have the chance to hear special guest speakers who will educate them on what is happing in our city,” he added.
For information on upcoming chamber events, including the annual State of the City luncheon on Oct. 20, visit

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at or (818) 563-1007.