The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is a well-known, impactful voice on behalf of business. Many times, it is the only organization speaking up for small business on local and state issues. Not everyone believes it is appropriate to wade in on issues, however: “You’re the Chamber – you’re supposed to be neutral,” is a comment we hear occasionally when wading into the treacherous waters of advocacy, where taking a stance almost always opens individuals and organizations to criticism from those who may not see things your way.
So why do it? Because it’s our job. We are a Chamber (gasp) of Commerce, not an office in the basement of some government building, and we are a vital, independent advocate for the health and welfare of the communities in which our members, their employees, and their business interests reside.
Chambers of Commerce have existed for centuries (this one is 102 years old this year) to aggregate the voices of business people and give them a role in how their communities, states and even nations evolve and shape their futures. The vast majority of funds for government at all levels is directly or indirectly tied to “business.” Business is the engine that drives government and communities by creating the critical mass – the storefronts, offices, factories, farms, banks, lodges, eateries and more – of our localities. Business owners and investors create jobs that provide for our families and build the homes where they live. Without exception, a region’s quality of life is intrinsically linked to the health and success of its business sector, and the Grand Traverse area is an A1 example of that axiom.
We also advocate for business because it’s become more important than ever to tell its story. As public discourse continues to evolve across more platforms and outlets with increasingly strident tones and sometimes inaccurate information, it’s critical for the business sector that its voice is heard and its needs are addressed.
That’s easier said than done, however. Business people are busy running their operations, planning for growth, and dealing with challenges such as finding good employees and getting them settled. They also have their own families and personal lives to tend to. Anyone who’s run a business big or small knows that 24 hours often aren’t enough to meet all the obligations they’ll face in a day. Advocating for themselves and others is something that falls by the wayside simply because there’s so much else to do.
Others avoid engaging because it can be a dispiriting experience that can wear down even the most positive of outlooks. Business people are our neighbors and friends. We live, worship, celebrate and grieve together. Our children attend the same schools. They volunteer for community causes and bolster our charities. But the worm can turn quickly. Advocating for new development, downtown density, public/private partnerships, less regulation and related issues can quickly generate hurtful allegations of self-interest, greed and worse – often from those who’ve never run a business, created a job or met a payroll. Too frequently, the Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude many hold toward the business sector forces honest and talented business people to simply turn away, to disengage and withdraw from public discussion and civic involvement. They’ve got plenty else on their plate that creates a lot less heartache.
That’s why the Chamber does what it does – to speak up and advocate for the business community and reinforce over and over the role of business so integral in our community’s and country’s success. It’s a mission more critical and necessary now than ever. So we’ll keep speaking up for business, and people would be wise to listen.