By Daniel J. Brooks
Director; Business Advocacy
The Billings business community has engaged in numerous discussions of impactful issues in the last few months. Public safety, education, elections, economic development, and most recently, a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO). Some issues are relatively agreeable—I haven’t heard anyone make the case for less public safety and our businesses largely agree that we need additional tools for economic development. Other issues are more divisive—elections and a WDO quickly come to mind.
So how do we decide on the positions we take? If you’re picturing me shaking a Magic 8-Ball and randomly crafting our policy positions, you’d be terribly mistaken. I only use that decision-making method for drafting my Fantasy Football team each Fall.
Our mission at the Chamber is to develop a strong business climate and vibrant economy by serving the community in a leadership role thereby enhancing the quality of life. With that in mind, we utilize the business expertise within our membership to guide our judgement on what is best for Billings business. However, with hundreds of members representing vastly different perspectives, we needed to adopt a process that ensures members’ voices are taken into account and a board of directors representative of the business community steers our ship.
The following steps guide our policy-making at the Chamber.
We want to hear from you, our members, as leaders in the business community. This generally comes in the form of an online survey but we also hear from you in other ways. Feedback during Collaborate, Cahoots, Business After Hours, along with other meetings and events is taken into account. We also receive lots of correspondence through calls and emails of members weighing in.
Two standing Advisory Boards, Local Government and State & Federal, discuss the issues while keeping in mind feedback from members, and the perspectives they bring from their business industries. Energy, healthcare, small business, finance, architects, engineers, and others are represented. Advisory Boards make a recommendation to support, oppose, or remain neutral on an issue to the Board of Directors.
Board of Directors
Ultimately, the Board of Directors has the final say on our positions. Considering membership input, an Advisory Board recommendation, and their own business perspectives, our Board of Directors shapes the policies our staff then enact and implement. Whether it’s recruiting additional air service to Billings, lobbying for additional infrastructure, or providing leadership and growth opportunities to businesses, it’s because the business community believes these policies will develop a strong business climate and vibrant economy.
Additionally, we look to other business communities around the country. We work with other chambers in the US Chamber of Commerce, Western Association of Chamber Executives (WACE), Montana Association of Chamber Executives (MACE), and the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). How are they addressing workforce issues, tax policy, and equality? Are there lessons learned and best practices we can adopt that have been beneficial to businesses in other areas of the United States? We take that information and use it to help shape what we do for the business community.
Sometimes we integrate ideas from other chambers, and sometimes other chambers call to discuss ours. We’ve recently been recognized by the ACCE and WACE for our Elections Matter initiative, which has provided a template for other chambers interested in getting involved in elections and prompted a chamber in Florida to reach out and ask how they can learn from Billings, MT!
Everything we do comes back to our mission of creating a strong business climate and vibrant economy. While there may be disagreement on how we get there, we want you to know that your input is integral to a rigorous process. So the next time you see that email coming from the Chamber, asking you to give us a couple minutes of your time, please make sure to fill out the survey and give us your honest feedback. We want to make sure that we’re advocating for YOU!