Building on Our Positive Momentum

Among the most important parts of a race is crossing the finish line. Getting there requires preparation, determination and execution. But, despite countless inspiring stories of sportsmanship and selflessness shown during big races, the run is diminished if one doesn’t finish the job.

There are similar parallels in the world of politics. All of the advocacy, lobbying and persuasion that’s involved in the political arena doesn’t really matter if important plans and priorities die on the vine.

Fortunately for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and its partners in the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, our region’s advocacy efforts, led by Government Relations Director Kent Wood and our contract lobbyists, Acuitas in Lansing and K&L Gates in Washington, paid significant dividends for our region in 2018. And we’re poised for even bigger accomplishments this year.

It’s rewarding to see several state-wide priorities that we’ve been working on for years take major steps forward in 2018, including progress on a new Soo Lock for Great Lakes shipping and the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Ontario – two major infrastructure projects that will boost the Michigan and regional economies. It was also significant to be able to offer input and feedback to state officials leading the negotiations to replace the Line 5 pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac, creating a pathway to resolving one of Michigan’s most-emotional and divisive public policy challenges.

Closer to home, the chambers were successful in seeking changes in new state medical leave and minimum wage laws to make them more functional for the thousands of small and seasonal businesses that serve the area. And they ended the year with a major legislative win – state approval of a Great Lakes Sports Commission to create a body and state funding to pursue recreational facility upgrades across northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to attract more world-class events and associated activities to our region.

Worried about roads, education and other critical issues? The reality is that the chambers also work very hard to successfully advocate for infrastructure funding, money for education at all levels, early childhood development and child care, tourism, job training, business development and many other priorities. Another reality is that the State of Michigan funds all sorts of programs, projects and services. That money will find its way to some part of Michigan, and the Alliance chambers won’t shy away from seeking to bring available state resources to northern Michigan constituents.

Another reason for our success is the efforts of Kent and other advocacy partners to work extended hours and days with our lawmakers in Lansing through the last gasps of the legislative year to get these initiatives over the top. While that process also generates its share of criticism, that’s how things operate and it underscores the importance of working as long as needed to get the job done.

More exciting is our optimism on building on these accomplishments in 2019. With House Speaker Rep. Lee Chatfield and Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Tristan Cole of northern Michigan holding top leadership positions, along with northern Michigan Representatives including Rep. Larry Inman holding key committee assignments and the tenure of state Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City in the Senate, northern Michigan is well positioned for more accomplishments in the new legislature. We’ve also connected with newly elected Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and helped introduce her to many of our local business leaders. There’s plenty of work ahead, including boosting broadband service across our rural areas and creating more parity in economic development and business incentive efforts.

Early this month the Alliance partners will again travel to the state capitol for the annual state of the state address to kick off another legislative year. There will be twists and turns, obstacles and hurdles we’ve encountered before and will experience again. Be assured that we will continue to work as long and hard as necessary to advance the interests of the thousands of regional businesses that we represent – and won’t slow down until we’ve crossed the finish line.

Doug Luciani is CEO of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at