Op-Ed: Chamber Alliance Discusses Priorities in Lansing

Carlin Smith

From the Petoskey News-Review, March 3, 2015

The following guest commentary was written by Carlin Smith, president of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce.

I was recently in the hot seat, looking up at five state senators, poised and ready to share with them the legislative priorities and concerns of the Northern Michigan business community. It was pretty cool. The best part is that we were invited to be there. Senator Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and he invited chambers from around the state to share their legislative agendas with the committee. The chambers who were there were from Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Petoskey.

In fairness, I wasn’t there on behalf of just the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce. I was there representing the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, a partnership of eight chambers in northern Michigan including Alpena, Benzie County, Cadillac, Charlevoix, Gaylord, Petoskey, Traverse City and Marquette County along with our associate partners from Elk Rapids, East Jordan, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City. Together these chambers represent around 6,500 businesses throughout Northern Michigan, so yes, we deserved to be at the table.

Joining me in the hot seat was Kent Wood, the director of government relations for the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. Kent and I looked up at the committee, turned on our microphones, and set to work telling them our story.

Some of the issues we shared were echoes of what the previous chambers cited as concerns for businesses in the state: the future reliability and affordability of energy supplies, talent and workforce development, continued efforts to streamline the state’s regulatory environment, and the need to strengthen the state’s transportation infrastructure. It was good that these lawmakers heard about these issues from multiple chambers as it helps to emphasize that these concerns are real and immediate.

Other issues that we addressed were unique to Northern Michigan, and might be slightly unusual for chambers to be discussing. One of those issues is the need to close the per-pupil funding gap in our K-12 schools. A recent report from Lansing showed that there are 157 different foundation allowances in our state on how schools are funded, and the gap ranges as much as $848 per pupil. Most Northern Michigan schools are on the lower end of that funding gap. As we see school funding increase, we asked the senators to consider raising the lower-funded schools at a higher rate than they raise the schools on the higher end of the funding gap.

We also talked about the importance of early childhood education and how we support the governor’s priority of growing the Great Start Readiness Program. We talked about rural hospital funding, the importance of continuing our tourism advertising, and the need to expand the broadband infrastructure in Michigan.

In years past, Northern Michigan would not have been at the table for this conversation. Through the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, we’ve made great strides in letting Lansing know that we have a diverse and sophisticated economic climate in Northern Michigan. And they now know that there are unique challenges to doing business in a rural climate at the top of a peninsula. We appreciate Senator Schmidt’s kind invitation to testify before his committee and we look forward to future trips to Lansing as we continue to move our region’s legislative agenda.

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You can view the Chamber Alliance’s full 2015 Legislative Priorities here: Alliance Announces 2015 Legislative Priorities

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