Beattie’s vision brought a new perspective to the Chamber and helped strengthen its role as a business and economy-centric think tank for Utah’s lawmakers and top elected officials. Central to this effort is the Chamber’s Public Policy Guide.
In 2008, Natalie Gochnour, the Chamber’s then COO, realized the need to establish long-term principles and priorities. It was a shift in understanding for the Chamber to move away from sporadically being involved in legislation, and to create a less transactional kind of government relations approach.
“The Chamber began to see the leadership gaps in our community, and fill them not just with influence, but with solutions,” said Gochnour.
“I’m glad that the Chamber went this way. We became a principled-based policy chamber that acted with long-term interests in mind. And I think that’s where business should be all the time,” said Wesley Smith, former executive vice president and general counsel.
Now in its fourteenth year, the policy guide serves as the steering document for the Chamber’s public policy efforts and outlines the business community’s principles, positions, and priorities on critical issues, such as education, transportation, health care, economic development, energy, and immigration. From Congress and the Governor’s office, to legislative committee rooms and city halls across the state, the Chamber utilizes this guide to promote a pro-growth, business-focused agenda.
“The intent of the policy guide is to work all year round, receive input from membership and work on the tough issues. So, when you’re in the legislative session, and you’ve only got 45 days, you can be nimble. You can say, ‘We’ve already got this; we’re not going to fight about this during the session,’” said Michael Parker, vice president of public policy. “We’ve already decided on the principles or our position that would guide this issue.”
The Chamber develops principles, policies, and positions on the main issues affecting Utah business through the work of policy-related committees, subcommittees, task forces and councils; which include representatives of member corporations, community organizations, government and civic leaders, and the academic community — all of whom serve voluntarily. In almost every instance, significant public policy issue positions originate with one of these Chamber components.
“It has become a year-round process and effort,” said Heidi Walker, Chamber COO. “Committee meetings began being held on a regular basis and people became engaged in a way they never were before. The board meeting topics changed in a big way because all of the sudden we were talking about policy issues and board members became not just more informed, but invested in the outcome.”
Observers described how the Chamber’s policy guide helped both lawmakers and other stakeholders stay informed on the business community’s priorities during the legislative session. Staff and business leaders said they were regularly asked to testify on various issues during the session, including unexpected ones.
While it would be difficult to call more than 100 board members to decide on a position for any given issue, the policy guide represented the business community’s guiding principles and priorities, even for bills Chamber members hadn’t directly considered.
“Business leaders serve as a catalyst, rather than coming up with all of the solutions themselves,” said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist and senior adviser to the Salt Lake Chamber. “The policy guide drove this leadership and influence of the business community behind a common set of priorities. It gave the community a common agenda that reflected business principles and put the economy first. At the end of the day, it made the Chamber relevant.”