Growing Business. Building Community.

A Good First Half – But Much Left to Do

Half time is an important segment of many sporting events. It’s an opportunity to re-assess your team’s strategy coming into a contest, figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t, and make necessary adjustments in hopes of prevailing at the end.

The summer season marks the half time of the political year, as lawmakers head home to their districts to talk about their first-half accomplishments and look to what’s ahead. It’s also an opportunity for organizations like the Traverse City Area Chamber and its partners at the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance to review its legislative priorities for the year, check what’s been tackled and re-focus on what still needs to be done.

In terms of accomplishments, it was good first half for the Chamber and the Alliance. Sticking to its “one size does not fit all” playbook – a business-policy strategy gladly co-opted by our first-term Congressman Jack Bergman that he’s taken to Washington – Northern Michigan’s business community grinded out several accomplishments in the first part of 2017 (“grind” being the operative term because of the extensive time and effort needed to keep these issues on Lansing’s front burner).

They included the Michigan Thrive bills creating transformational brownfields to help re-develop abandoned and contaminated properties. It was a major accomplishment as Alliance partners worked closely with our region’s lawmakers to re-shape the legislation to make it viable in the smaller communities that make up Northern Michigan. It also has legislators thinking about right-sized solutions that can be effective throughout Michigan’s diverse landscape, and not just major metropolitan areas to the south.

We also helped convince lawmakers to reinstate the “2X” per-pupil funding formula to close the state funding gap for a large majority of our area’s school districts. It was a major accomplishment, as was the increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education dollars needed to build our future regional workforce. Another $1 million was secured for the popular Skilled Trades Training Fund used by several area employers to train new employees. The Chamber also pushed to successfully finalize the multi-year process for funding Northwestern Michigan College’s 21st Century Innovation Center.

Those were some of the “wins,” and there were others, including significant budget success for talent attraction issues such as access to quality child care. But sports fans know that a good first half can be offset by a poor second half performance. There’s still plenty of work to do. Building on our “one size does not fit all” mindset, the first major effort is to continue to work with our Alliance partners to strive for state economic development and housing incentives that can spur employment opportunities in rural and smaller metro areas, as stable, year-round jobs are needed in all areas of our state.

Other issues on the radar include work at the federal level to upgrade the Soo Locks, as well as to bolster the H-2B visa availability to raise the arbitrary cap on foreign workers, and improve the administration of the program to bolster our region’s seasonal labor pool. We’re also working on legislation to create a Great Lakes Sports Commission to recruit junior, amateur and professional sporting events to our unique venues and facilities across Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. We’re also tracking other pending legislation including a road salt bill that would create a competitive disadvantage to northern Michigan trucking companies and potentially drive up costs for winter road maintenance in our region’s municipalities.

It’s a never-ending challenge to advocate for the business interests of northern Michigan. But it’s a labor of love as there’s nothing more rewarding to our regional Chambers of Commerce than building the influence – and economic success – of our world-class business community.

Kent Wood is the Director of Government Relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. Contact him at kentw@tcchamber.org