A victory for small business owners throughout the state

State chamber wins national recognition thanks in part to small-business alliance

Last month, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) did something it has never done before: It awarded its top prize – the title of Chamber of the Year – to a state chamber of commerce.

The Association of Washington Business, Washington’s oldest and largest business association and also Washington’s state chamber of commerce, was named 2016 Chamber of the Year in the newly established state/province category, beating out finalists from Georgia and Saskatchewan, Canada.

It’s a nice honor for AWB’s staff and volunteer board members, but winning the award is really a victory for small business owners throughout the state.

That’s because AWB’s contest entry highlighted the work of the AWB-Local Chamber Grassroots Alliance, an initiative launched approximately two years ago with the aim of strengthening ties between the state chamber and local chambers of commerce.

The Grassroots Alliance, which now includes more than 60 chambers and economic development organizations from throughout Washington, recognizes that small business owners are often too busy running their business to keep up on what’s happening in the state Legislature, even when lawmakers’ actions directly impact their bottom line.

At the same time, local chambers of commerce don’t always have full-time staff members dedicated to tracking public policy issues.

The Grassroots Alliance addresses both issues by keeping local chamber staff and their members up to speed on what’s happening in the state Legislature through weekly newsletters and conference call updates during the legislative session, and by giving them background and insight from AWB policy experts.

In short, the Grassroots Alliance helps to give small-business owners a voice in the state Legislature.

The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce were among the first chambers to join the Grassroots Alliance, helping fuel its rapid growth.

The partnership yielded an early success during the 2015 legislative session when lawmakers were debating the $16 billion transportation revenue and reform package, the first statewide transportation package approved by the Legislature in decade.

AWB staff members kept local chambers informed about the progress of the legislation, and local chamber members came to Olympia to testify in favor of the transportation package.

AWB’s work on the Grassroots Alliance was just one of the factors in the judges’ decision. They also took note of AWB’s efforts to persuade congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, a hugely important issue for agriculture producers and other export-driven industries.

The association’s strategic plan, which includes an updated mission – to be a catalytic leader and unifying voice for economic prosperity throughout Washington state – and vision – to excel as a globally competitive state built on a foundation of innovation, a world-class workforce and a quality of place second to none – also resonated with the judges.

And they noted AWB’s series of statewide tours over the last few years that have allowed literally thousands of business owners to engage directly with AWB staff members.

Running a business isn’t easy, but it helps to know that you’re not alone. The Grassroots Alliance is just one example of how AWB is working to bring together people and employers to find solutions for the challenges facing our state, and to help make Washington a place where everyone can prosper.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association.

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