Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
There’s a good reason the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce leads a contingent of Western Slope business leaders to the Colorado Capitol each year.
“What happens under the dome doesn’t stay under the dome,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
Rather, decisions at the State Legislature have profound consequences for businesses, Schwenke said. And it’s only through building and maintaining relationships with lawmakers that business groups like the chamber can influence those decisions.
“When there is legislation that affects the Western Slope, then they will know who we are and we can be more effective at working with them to protect the interests of West Slope businesses and our community,” she said.
About 40 chamber members joined in the latest legislative trip for the group in March. They joined with chamber representatives from around the state for the first ever Chamber Day at the Legislature
Speaking at a rally and press conference on the steps of the Capitol, Schwenke noted that of the eight chambers represented the press conference, four were from Western Colorado. And that highlighted the importance of a measure supported by the Grand Junction chamber that would allow testimony at legislative committee hearings by remote video. “There is no reason why, as the fifth techiest state in the union, that we cannot use technology to bring our voices to the Capitol,” she said.
Schwenke also spoke about how communities in Western Colorado haven’t shared in the economic recovery experienced on the Front Range, citing a barrage of rules and regulations directed at the energy industry as a major cause for the lag. “We are seeing an attack on a single, particular industry in this state.”
Schwenke added, “The question for everyone who owns a business is ‘Are we next?’”
Following the rally, chamber members met over lunch with State Sen. Steve King, a Republican from Grand Junction.
King offered an update on the legislative session, including work on the state budget as well as his fight to secure funding for a state-based wildfire fighting air fleet, the creation of which was authorized by legislation enacted last year. King cited protection of Colorado watersheds as a key reason for funding the air fleet. “None of us can survive more than a few days without water. One Waldo Canyon-magnitude fire in one of the Colorado River watersheds would have devastating consequences for years to come.”
The trip continued continued with a series of meetings with various state officials, including Ken Lund, executive director Office of Economic Development and International Trade; Virginia Morrison Love with Pinnacol Assurance, who offered an update on workers’ compensation; Angie Binder of Encana, who provided an update on oil and natural gas legislation; and John Swarthout, who leads state efforts to fend off an listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act.
As in previous years, the highlight of the trip was cocktails and dinner with state legislators at a downtown restaurant. Legislators from across the state and both parties attended the event, giving chamber members an opportunity to interact with a broad cross-section of lawmakers.
Schwenke said the opportunity to network with lawmakers remains the main purpose of the annual trip. “If we are going to be effective in influencing lawmakers, we have to build relationships with them.”