Defending Our Unique Business Environment: Legislative advocacy is key to future growth

Leadership takes many forms. When strife and lack of cooperation are present at the local, state and national government levels, public policy leadership is crucial.

The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce has served as the voice and public sector advocate for the business community and institutional employers for more than 100 years. We have a proud legacy of encouraging and furthering constructive debate and dialogue on important government and public policy issues.

As Traverse Connect and the Traverse Chamber embark on the next phase as one combined entity to drive growth and development in the Grand Traverse region, our advocacy work will continue to play a central role.

Our new strategic plan outlines our responsibility as the lead organization for economic and development policy for the region, including a strong government relations and public sector advocacy focus. Our role is clear: legislative advocacy to improve and defend the northern Michigan business environment, while preserving the quality of life and environmental gifts that make this a wonderful place to live.

Taking a regional approach strengthens our public advocacy work. We are a founding member of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, a partnership of chambers of commerce and economic development organizations throughout northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. The Alliance is an effective statewide policy leader that spans 14 counties and brings together the voices of nearly 8,000 member businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers.

This strength carries weight in statewide decisions and allows us to aggressively pursue rural- and small city-focused policy initiatives. We represent the needs of local employers and often take positions that are different from our counterparts in southern Michigan. Policy that may make great sense in Detroit or Grand Rapids is not always the right solution for the Grand Traverse region. One size does not fit all.

Our legislative advocacy work is organized around the Four Pillars of Rural Prosperity, a legislative agenda created with the participation of numerous business leaders and regional stakeholders. The four pillars are: 1. rural business development; 2. attracting talent to rural areas; 3. rural and small city housing development and 4. access to quality child care. This policy framework is focused on our core economic development priorities as well as the important community development issues that directly impact regional economic development.

We currently have several bill drafts in process at the state level to address our four pillar priorities. One of the best examples of this work is our Rural Workforce Housing PILOT Program. Housing experts and employers have consistently shared that more tools for workforce housing development are needed in rural areas. To address this issue, we are championing legislation that would allow (but not require) rural municipalities to create a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program for their community that allow municipal leaders to work directly with developers to incentivize the creation of workforce housing units. Currently, municipalities are only allowed to enter into PILOT agreements if a developer is seeking state or federal housing tax credit programs. Allowing rural communities and property owners to work directly together will facilitate the construction and rehabilitation of more units for middle-income earners.

This important Four Pillars advocacy work is designed to create more tools and options for rural businesses and communities. Traverse Connect will continue to lead these efforts and I invite you to help further these important policy discussions by attending the Northern Michigan Policy Conference in December. This event is designed to leverage and enhance northern Michigan’s standing as a world-class economic destination.

Public policy that promotes growth in existing and new high-value businesses, thriving educational institutions and flourishing communities will make northern Michigan a national model for quality and sustainable economic development.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at