A Day in the Life of Chamber Government Affairs
If there’s some strange policy in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?
The Chamber Government Affairs Team!
Chamber members may not realize that with their membership, they get three registered lobbyists advocating for them on local and statewide issues affecting businesses. Whether it’s parking, signage, child care, health care, taxes, education or anything else, our Government Affairs Team is here to ensure your interests are being represented in the various halls of government. Bottom line: if you’re not connected with our Government Affairs Team, you’re not making the most of your membership.
To bridge that gap, we sat down with Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs, and Joshua Lunger, Director of Government Affairs, and asked them about their work and why members should reach out to them with any issue they may have – no matter how small.
MEET ANDY JOHNSTON & JOSH LUNGER
Give us some“Advocacy 101”! What exactly do you do, in the simplest terms?
Josh: We represent members of the Grand Rapids Chamber and try to create the best business environment so they can focus on what they do best, like growing and running their businesses.
Andy: There are rules and regulations for everything. If you’re upset about tax changes, or wonder why you have to fill out a form, or why there isn’t any parking downtown because it’s affecting your business, we can help.
Rules and regulations confuse me – can you give examples?
Andy: Do you remember those little stickers that used to be on each item in the grocery store? That was a government regulation called item-pricing and retailers had to pay people to have those on. It was ridiculous! We were able to repeal it in 2010. We worked with Representative Lisa Lyons and she sponsored that bill. It was a big win for retailers.
Josh: More recently we were connected with a new Chamber member that was trying to open up her first salon business. The city was telling her that she needed some industrial fan which would require her to hire an architect and pay $4,000 – when basically all she wanted to do is to put four chairs into a room. We’re trying to find a way for her to get around that, so she doesn’t have that huge expense.
How exactly do you go about advocating for issues like that?
Josh: We do a lot of communication – both with our members and the policy-makers. Some of that communication is just keeping members up-to-date. Sometimes it’s just listening to them to hear how specific policies and regulations will impact them. Then we give that feedback and tell those stories to our elected officials, bureaucrats, and anyone that has an impact in government.
How do you know what issues affect local businesses and how do you know what position to take?
Andy: We have guidelines set by the Chamber board whenever we take an issue up. As staff, we first try to identify business issues by asking ourselves certain questions. Anybody can argue to turn an issue into a business issue, but that’s where these questions come in:
- Is it a business issue?
- Does it impact Grand Rapids Chamber members?
- Will our voice be missed?
Then, we bring the issue to our Government Affairs Committees, and through a deliberative process where we present both sides of the issue, we make our best judgment. We always ask our committee members, which are chaired by and consist of Chamber members, to “put their Chamber hat on” and not just represent their business, but the West Michigan business community as a whole.
Why should members care about what you do, especially if they’re small business owners or people who don’t stay up-to-date on political issues?
Andy: From the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed and even while you’re asleep, rules and decisions have been made for you. You don’t have to accept that. If a policy makes sense, then we’ll support it – but if business owners can think of a better way for things to be done, they need to let us know so we can make the policy changes happen. We just want to make their lives easier.
Josh: Small business owners work insane hours trying to make ends meet, figuring out how to pay their employees, trying to grow their business, and finding their next customer. If you’re just starting out and get blindsided by something you never anticipated because the government made a decision that impacted you, you might feel discouraged from trying at all. We don’t want that. We want people to create something new out of nothing that will employ people and create wealth. How many people can follow the city agenda all the time? No one has time for that. That’s what we’re here for: To make sure you’re never caught unaware and that your voice is constantly being heard.
If you leave Chamber members one last message, what would it be?
Josh: If any member has an issue, we want them to call us or meet with us. Most of them don’t bug us enough and we want them to bug us! No issue is too small. Our events like Breakfast with Legislators and Politics & Pints are also important. Giving members the chance to interact directly with elected officials builds relationships in a unique way.
Andy: Members should feel like bad-asses for having three registered lobbyists as an extension of their team! I think most of them don’t realize how we can help. Contact us with whatever issue you have, and we can help you with that – even if it’s just a question. My favorite saying at the Chamber is, “We might not know everything, but we know people who do.” So if there’s something we can’t help you with, we can connect you with the people who can.