I’m not a lobbyist by trade, but I do know about the significant issues our local businesses face and have many opportunities to talk about them. There’s not a week that goes by at the Chamber where we’re not sitting down with an elected official, be they local, state or federal to learn about issues that affect our community and to give our members the opportunity to discuss how policies are affecting their businesses. Those issues are then reported out to our members in our Chamber Insider Business Blog on a regular basis, in an effort to keep everyone informed. That type of access, constructive dialog, and regular journaling has given me public policy insights that helped prepare me to join a team of lobbyists and participate in the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition DC Fly-In last week.
The Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition (GLMCC) is a collective of chambers of commerce across the Great Lakes region that jointly advocate on core policy issues, including water quality, immigration reform, trade, and transportation and infrastructure. Since its founding in 2008, the coalition has become a leading and effective voice on federal policy impacting the Great Lakes region. The West Coast Chamber has been a member of the coalition since 2012. The DC Fly-In brings together lobbyists from Chambers in cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, Youngstown, Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Holland. Over the course of two long days, coalition members discuss strategies to address our common issues, and meet with legislators from the Senate and House, and representatives from the departments of Trade, Education, and Energy, to name a few. It’s an elite opportunity to provide feedback to these key policy makers and help them understand what’s going on with communities and businesses back home, and what we would like to see addressed.
Representatives from Michigan Chambers with U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman
Representatives from the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition at the White House
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is a pervasive issue for all members of the coalition. With President Trump’s budget hot off the presses, there was much to discuss about the announcement that the administration wants to decrease funding by almost $270 million for the GLRI, which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect and restore the world’s largest system of fresh surface water. It’s a frustration that funding levels for this program shift up and down from year to year, and the question was raised as to whether we should be asking if Canada should play a role in protecting those waters as well, and whether funding could possibly come from that side of the border.
Of positive note was the $75.3 million allocated for the Soo Locks construction project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that this allocation would allow the $922 million project to be finished within seven to 10 years of its start date. Two older locks will be replaced with a new 1,200-foot-long lock to allow large vessels to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. The allocation was not expected and is great news for the Great Lakes. At this time, the Appropriations Committee still needs to make the funds available, and there is a letter circulating through the Great Lakes states representatives to ensure the approval goes through. When meeting with Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, he remarked that the number of senators that have stakes in Great Lakes issues is a small percentage of the whole, and that they rely on support from members of the House and other lawmakers that they can pull in to help them advocate.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio
U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania
U.S. Congressman Jack Bergan of Michigan
Trade continues to be at the top of many states’ issues lists and discussions included questions regarding the current strategy and timeline to deal with China’s unfair trade practices, tech transfer and theft of intellectual property. While it’s hard to predict how long it will take to make the significant progress the U.S. requires (we asked that question a lot), several senators expressed confidence in United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s tough approach to negotiations. Senator Rob Portman from Ohio has previously held that position and explained to us that Lighthizer is in a very strong position given that he has the full support of the current administration to do whatever is necessary to confront the issue.
Trade closer to home was centered around the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA. USMCA was signed by the respective countries in November of 2018 and is designed to modernize the 24-year-old NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement). The intention of the new agreement is to rebalance the trade agreement and ensure this is equally beneficial to all parties. USMCA still needs approval from the House and the Senate and getting the votes needed is of primary importance. Deputy US Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney explained that USMCA also represents an alliance of North American countries which gives us more strength to fight unfair trade practices around the world. The challenge right now is educating businesses and elected officials on the differences between NAFTA and USMCA so that there’s clarity about how USMCA will enhance the United States’ position in trade. Look for more information to come.
Stopping by U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga's DC office
Catching up with former Michigan State Representative Daniela Garcia, now with the U.S. Department of Education
Your time is valuable, and I’ve got a lot more to cover, so I’m breaking this DC report into two installments. Digest this information and come back next week for more updates. Next week’s blog will include briefings about the GLMCC’s conversations on education and workforce development, immigration and infrastructure. In addition to reports on issues I hope you’ve also learned that the West Coast Chamber prioritizes keeping the pulse on the topics that matter to our community and our businesses and are always at the ready to connect you to people and resources to make public policy work for you.
See you next week.