I recently started a new position as the President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. While I have been involved with the Salt Lake Chamber for many years, taking on this new role has opened my eyes to the Chamber’s expansive reach. From programs to policy issues and collaborative efforts with other organizations, the Chamber’s influence has been–and will continue to be–critical to the prosperity of our state.
To that end, it was easy to decide who I should interview for this month’s Prosperity Project: Heidi Walker. Many people outside of the Chamber community may not know Heidi, but those who do understand that as Salt Lake Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer and a member of the Chamber team for over 15 years, she is an important part of what keeps the organization ticking.
During my first few months on the job, Heidi has shown me how the Salt Lake Chamber’s mission to “stand as the voice of business, support its members’ success and champion community prosperity” is the driving force behind everything the organization does. I recently sat down with Heidi to discuss the Chamber’s role in the community and a few of our current projects that encapsulate this mission.
Standing as the Voice of Business
One way the Salt Lake Chamber stands as the voice of business is by shaping and advocating for smart, business-friendly public policy. In the past year, the Chamber demonstrated leadership on rebalancing Utah’s tax structure to enhance education funding, worked to transform the governance and funding of our multi-modal transportation system, pushed for innovative ways to build a talented workforce, and is now taking steps to address our state’s housing affordability problem.
Heidi and I dove deeper into how the Chamber is working to improve housing affordability through the formation of the Housing GAP Coalition, a group of bright minds from the business community, academia and government who have come together to tackle this very real threat to our long-term economic prosperity. “The business community is determined to address this issue before it becomes a crisis,” she said. The Coalition will address the challenges associated with housing affordability to ensure that the American Dream is kept alive for all Utahns by providing access to a variety of housing types for all income groups.
“In the past, we have been very successful in bringing together business and community leaders to collaborate, similar to the Housing GAP Coalition to solve important issues like transportation, immigration and education,” Heidi explained. “These groups and leaders have really solidified the Salt Lake Chamber as a premier community collaborator and unifier.”
Supporting its Members’ Success
You may not know by looking at our name that the Salt Lake Chamber is capital city by name and statewide by mission. The Chamber has 8,000 members from all of Utah’s 29 counties and represent over 500,000 employees. “Each year, hundreds of our community members serve on Chamber committees, volunteer at events and testify on Capitol Hill. We could not do what we do without our engaged business community. We are effective in Utah because of them, and everything we do is for the benefit of the statewide business community,” Heidi said.
One way the Chamber supports its members is by honoring businesses and individuals who show exemplary support to the Chamber and committing their time and abilities to help further its mission and bolster the community as a whole during its annual events. Last month, The Chamber honored Senator Orrin Hatch as the 39th Giant in our City, and has already begun planning for the next large event. “The Chamber prides itself on being a gathering place for our business leaders and community,” Heidi said. “There’s always something going on.”
She elaborated on the importance of recognizing Chamber members not just at Chamber events, but also showing our appreciation for them in the day-to-day. If our members represent the players, the Chamber acts as their ultimate cheerleader. “We work hard to show appreciation and recognition to our members, whether that’s by attending or promoting their events, highlighting their sustainability practices, or congratulating individual employee accomplishments, their success is our success.”
Championing Community Prosperity
Lastly, the Chamber takes its role as champion of community prosperity seriously. “The Chamber is always looking for ways we can partner with organizations around the state to enhance what we are doing well and find opportunities where we can do better,” Heidi said. Partnerships with the Downtown Alliance, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah and World Trade Center Utah, as well as local chambers of commerce across the state, are vital as we work together to make Utah the best place to live, work, learn and play.
One example of working with our partners to champion community prosperity is the 25K Jobs Initiative. Eleven of Utah’s rural counties have had zero or negative job growth since 2008 and are struggling to keep up with the Wasatch Front’s economic expansion. To address this “tale of two Utah’s”, Governor Herbert set a goal to create 25,000 jobs in 25 rural counties by the year 2020. I was grateful to lead the 25K Jobs Tour last summer with Lt. Governor Spencer Cox to kick off this goal. Over twenty business service providers, including the Salt Lake Chamber, loaded a trailer and hit the road to visit the 25 rural counties and connect local business owners and job seekers with available tools, resources and business services. Over the next few months, the Chamber plans to further these efforts by partnering with local chambers of commerce throughout the state to assist rural communities improve job growth.
Heidi’s insight and institutional knowledge has helped me see that staying true to our mission is the secret ingredient to the Chamber’s success. I am proud to lead this organization and look forward to learning and sharing more about these and other important business and community initiatives in the months ahead.
by Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller