Carla Edwards was flying high at the February 4 Chamber of Commerce annual awards ceremony where the founder of the annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival was honored as Citizen of the Year.

Carla Edwards honored as Chamber Citizen of the Year

February 12, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times

Carla Edwards was flying high at the February 4 Chamber of Commerce annual awards ceremony where the founder of the annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival was honored as Citizen of the Year.

More than 150 people attended the event held at the Museum of Ventura County Agriculture Museum.

Mayor Rick Cook delivered the State of the City Address to the audience that included Vice Mayor Jim Tovias and Councilmen Ralph Fernandez, Martin Hernandez and City Clerk Judy Rice as well as Supervisor Kathy Long and representatives of other elected officials.

Maria Bombara, a Chamber Director and former Citizen of the Year, noted her excitement at presenting the award to Edwards, who in 1993 graduated with a MBA in International Management from Thunderbird, the Arizona-based American Graduate School of International Management. Edwards began her career in international consumer sales and marketing with Thermo Electron and later Fisher Scientific. Responsible for a wide array of exported healthcare, medical, industrial and educational products, she established distribution networks, designed product launches, trade shows, sales catalogs, advertising and promotions. She was recognized for negotiating sizeable public sector sales with American Public Health Laboratories in partnership with the CDC in Central America, with the Ministry of Education of Venezuela, with the National Guard of Venezuela, and with the Institute of Industrial Technology in Argentina. 

Bombara said Edwards has traveled the world extensively utilizing her fluency in four languages to establish lasting relationships with local leaders.

“She joined the Santa Paula community in 2004,” and currently serves on the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, and has served the boards of the Heritage Valley Tourism Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Ventura Tourism Council, and is a Regional Tourism Coalition member.

In 2008, Edwards founded the Citrus Classic Balloon Festival.

“Most of us can remember being at the Santa Paula airport and being amazed as the glow began,” said Bombara.

“The next morning the balloons flew over our beautiful valley, and Carla, you took our breath away. Lucky for us, that was just the beginning!”

Bombara said “Carla was selected for this award due to her vision, determination, ability, and business skills to bring the only hot air balloon festival in Ventura County to Santa Paula.”

Edward’s event has attracted guests from throughout Southern and Central California to Santa Paula.

“Carla looks outside the festival to be sure the festival benefits our downtown district, our local merchants, our non-profits and our community as a whole,” and, “Carla presents our community in such a positive manner,” Bombara said, “return visits to our area by festival visitors are almost guaranteed.”

The 2013 festival “broke all attendance records with close to 12,000 spectators! Each year, people have an opportunity to make their dream come true and take a tethered hot air balloon ride,” at the event, now the third most recognized balloon festival in the nation. 

“And Carla,” noted Bombara, “you still take our breath away.”

Edwards established “strong business and personal relationships” with cities such as Santa Clarita and Santa Barbara and throughout Ventura County. When Ventura was unable to host the Run or Dye 5K, Edwards was contacted and given 36 hours to find a location in Santa Paula or Ventura County would lose the race.

Bombara said, “Once again, Carla’s vision, business skills, determination and contacts led to a successful location at the Ventura Ranch KOA,” and Santa Paula will benefit from the event’s more than 4,000 participants. 

Edwards was also instrumental in bringing the March 29 Never Surrender Mud Run to Ventura Ranch KOA, an event that will benefit the Ventura County Mobile Mammography program and afford local merchants the opportunity to showcase their products and services. 

“Once again,” said Bombara, “Carla brings visitors to our Santa Paula community and we all benefit.”

In addition to all her community involvement, Bombara said, “Carla is the fabulous wife to Harold Edwards and Mother to Blake,” both of whom attended the event.

“I thank virtually everyone of you in this room,” said Edwards who offered an analogy of how she came to Santa Paula.

“I think of myself as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ transported to the magical land of Santa Paula... and the cyclone that brought me here was Harold!”

Santa Paula has proven wonderfully supportive of her as well as the festival whose hot air balloons evokes thoughts of Oz, and Edwards named and thanked those she said have helped her greatly, her own team of Tin men, Lions and Scarecrows that each year help stage the massive event.

Her husband and son, said Edwards, have also been supportive and patient through the years of planning and staging of each festival.

There have been “Wicked witches... wind, overcast skies, the downturn in the economy,” and competing events, but Edwards said the public as well as sponsors have remained loyal to the annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival, which will continue to be the focus of widespread positive publicity and draw thousands of visitors to Santa Paula each year.

Aside from Long, representatives of Rep. Julia Brownley, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblyman Das Williams also presented proclamations and offered congratulations to award recipients, including Edwards.

Santa Clara Valley Bank was honored as the Large Business of the Year, Go-Getter Books as the Small Business of the Year, Melgar Photography Studios was recognized with the Beautification Award and Special Achievement recognition was given to Isbell Middle School teachers Mark Robertson and Todd McWherter, who oversee the Cancer Crushers, a student volunteer organization.

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