Pulling Together Community Leaders Helps Chambers Attack Stubborn Local Problems

What is the biggest need in your business community and how is your chamber working to be a problem-solver on the issue?

Deanna Palm, ACE
Hillsboro (OR) Chamber

While the issue of homelessness is, unfortunately, not new to our community, concerns from the business community have become amplified over the last year.

Business owners were showing up at city council meetings expressing concerns about the perceived lack of response and solutions from the city. The chamber met with the mayor and suggested a joint task force that would focus specifically on solutions for businesses being impacted. We developed a very specific purpose statement and committee charge. The task force had a balanced membership with representatives from the business community, nonprofit community, service providers, city council, city employees and public safety. The task force met six times and developed a business toolkit for business owners, as well as frontline staff offering best practices and local resources. We plan to hold meetings for business owners to discuss and receive copies of the toolkit. These toolkits also will be distributed during our Business Walk.

Robert Heidt
Glendale (AZ) Chamber

As I reflect on the biggest need in our community, I would say we are working to address our “rapid growth.” While we are not a new community, Glendale and the West Valley of Phoenix is growing at a rapid pace and that is the No. 1 issue for all west valley cities. With the rapid growth comes a subset of challenges to manage, such as our infrastructure, transportation, water, etc. Our chamber is engaging on these issues at the local, state and federal level to ensure the business community’s voice is heard.

We’ve enhanced our advocacy efforts and recently joined forces with the other west valley chambers to hire a local lobbyist to ensure we are better representing our business community at our state level, improving relationships with our state elected representative as we’ve had a surge of new folks elected. And, most recently with new elected officials in Washington, D.C., we have hosted a number of meetings with our newly elected officials and all of the mayors of the west valley to get everyone working together.

Finally, we have planned our first business leader/local elected officials trip to D.C. in March where we plan to do joint Hill visits as a delegation of Glendale elected officials and the Glendale Chamber business leaders. The joint visits will allow us to advocate for the priorities of Glendale by demonstrating we are all working closely together to strengthen our city and the business community.

Peter Rumble
Santa Rosa Metro (CA) Chamber

Santa Rosa is the 5th largest city in the Bay Area and 26th largest in California. Our biggest needs and challenges are similar to other cities on the West Coast—systemic issues like housing and education, as well as supporting small businesses on Main Street (89% of business in Sonoma County).

These challenges, however, are exacerbated by the urgency of disaster recovery. Sonoma County lost more than 5,000 homes to fires, and the longer recovery takes, the greater the risk we face of a declining population and business relocation, which would be an even greater disaster. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser reminds us, “The real city is made of flesh not concrete.”

At the systems level, we are deeply engaged in advocacy and politics, holding more than 360 meetings with elected officials in 2018, funding ballot and candidate campaigns through our political action committee, supporting the development of pro-housing policies, establishing an employers housing council to help launch projects, and implementing various workforce programs. On the Main-Street level, we are taking action to support local shopping, creating referral networks for our small business members, and investing in tourism promotion to maintain the many businesses that rely on this key industry.

Joseph Erceg
Green Valley Sahuarita (AZ) Chamber & Visitors Center

Arguably the most pressing concern of our business community is access to affordable health care for business owners, their employees and families. Last June, the Trump administration released rules that have made it easier for small businesses to buy insurance through associations—policies that do not have to follow the same rules as individual policies sold under Obamacare and not required to cover all of the essential health benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act. With great leadership from a Tucson-area insurance broker, we’ve connected Arizona’s leading health care provider with 14 Southern Arizona chambers to form an association that will offer multiple plan options for more than 6,000 member businesses with two to 50 employees pooling together for more purchasing power and less-costly premiums.

Additionally, guided by our new Strategic Plan, and funded, in part, by a grant from one of our corporate partners, we’ve begun and are pursuing a Business Retention and Expansion Program. More than 20 chamber members organized into teams will be facilitating a survey among 50–60 area businesses in February. We believe that by pinpointing the needs of our business community, we may more effectively deliver programs and initiatives that will address their most pressing challenges.