Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 17, 2013

Chamber View: Taking sides can take a toll

BY DOUG DeYOUNG
Local columnist

---- — ‘What’s the Chamber’s position on this issue?”

That’s a question heard time and again by myself and others at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. A recent Chamber membership query on the local food truck debate sparked a large response and questions about where our organization came down on this foodie flap.

Picking sides on issues, whether local or global, is often difficult. For an organization that serves almost 1,900 members, from one-person shops to large companies with thousands of employees, it’s rare if not impossible to find any topic that would affect our members exactly the same way. That necessitates cultivating several viewpoints across a wide range of business interests, but doing so in a timely fashion to make sure our input is timely and relevant.

There is a process for getting there. The Chamber turns to its members who serve on its Government Relations, Transportation and other committees for guidance on local, state and national policy issues. Those committees review legislation and policy items and make recommendations of support or opposition to the Chamber Board of Directors.

We also rely on our partners in the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance to help craft regional positions to give our business sector more political clout in Lansing and Washington. It also uses the expertise and experience of its staff to navigate the often tricky political headwinds.

In many instances, the Chamber’s “position” isn’t an either/or proposition — which also seems to aggravate some folks. The food truck debate is a perfect example. Done right, food trucks in the city would be a key ingredient for growing the community’s vibrancy and “foodie” reputation. Done haphazardly, it could be detrimental to parts of our city that have put this region on the national food map. That’s why our “position” is for the city to take sufficient time to get these rules right the first time … a stance that may seem vanilla to some.

The road funding debate in Lansing offers a similar example on a completely different subject. The Chamber supports a sound infrastructure system in Michigan, as it’s good for business and consumers. That’s our position.

Determining the best method to pay for that work — gas taxes, sales taxes, vehicle registration fees or a combination thereof — will take more review and discussion. As proposals come forward, that work will begin though the procedures outlined above.

Unlike many chambers around the U.S., the Traverse City Chamber doesn’t endorse political candidates. The reason? The Chamber’s board of directors reviewed our advocacy policy in 2009 and for several reasons including not having a Political Action Committee, decided the Chamber would not endorse candidates. The Chamber does encourage many candidates to run for office and continues to work with people across the political spectrum to advance the goals of our business community. Anything less, in our view, would be a disservice to our membership and the region. That might not be black and white enough for some, but it’s served us well over the years.

Along those lines, sometimes the best position for a Chamber is to pick no sides at all. If it can help resolve a local issue or craft an acceptable solution to a problem, its opinion doesn’t really matter. What’s important is to get the job done and move the community forward.

For service and membership organizations like the Chamber, staking out hard and fast positions on issues that are often moving targets carries both risk and responsibility. The responsibility is doing what’s best for our business constituents and community. The risk is finding a solid consensus on the best way to get there.

So that’s our position on this issue…?

Doug DeYoung is vice president of government relations and business development for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.