Over the last decade, we’ve seen the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce direct its influence in a rearguard manner to protect local business interests.
We’re talking about things like opposing a statewide minimum wage, fighting against higher impact fees and then asking City Council to phase them in gently or suing the Grand Valley Drainage District over what it considered an illegal tax to fund infrastructure improvements.
There’s nothing wrong with that. The chamber is the “voice” of local business and advocacy is part of its mission. It’s always going to weigh in on things like sales taxes and development fees that affect its members.
But it seems to be turning a corner. It’s no longer exclusively locked on what’s good for its membership. Instead it seems to be acknowledging that what’s good for the community will bring benefits to its members.
This isn’t an overnight phenomenon. The chamber, for example, advocated for the North Avenue name change only to run into a buzzsaw of opposition. But its heart was in the right place. It saw the name change as setting the table for future prosperity rather than something that would pay immediate dividends to its members.
We’re seeing similar thinking at work with the chamber’s goals for 2020. This is the time of the year the chamber’s Board of Directors unveils its yearlong agenda ahead of its annual banquet and it’s looking upstream at some of the factors that inhibit economic growth.
“One of the things we had lots of conversation about is an outward focus on the community,” said Diane Schwenke, the chamber’s president and CEO.
Tackling high health-care costs is the no-brainer on the list. As the Sentinel’s Joe Vaccarelli reported, the chamber wants to put together a coalition of employers to look for ways for businesses to gain bargaining power when negotiating rates to insure their employees.
Anything the coalition can do to lower costs is going to be good for the bottom line of any business, which has a benefit for consumers.
But the chamber also wants to facilitate greater collaboration between the business community and educational leaders in the valley to better match skills with emerging jobs.
That puts the chamber in a position to lean in on the importance of good schools.
In meeting more directly with School District 51 regarding future ballot measures, Schwenke said she hopes the chamber can help better connect the business community with education and showcase that an educated workforce helps businesses and quality schools help attract workers.
“We want to engage sooner on health care and K-12 education,” she said. “We feel we have something to bring to the table.”
Championing a stronger and healthier community, which has to include addressing the Grand Valley’s daycare desert, is good for everyone, including business owners. It’s gratifying to see the chamber expand its definition of what constitutes a favorable business climate.