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Why Chambers of Commerce Should be Involved with Local Government

Q&A with Scott Manley, Vice President of Government Relations at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

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Tell us about your role at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
I’m the Senior Vice President of Government Relations. I oversee our team of lobbyists who communicate with legislators, their staff, and executive branch agency staff and explain to them our position on issues that impact businesses when they are attempting to change policies.

Why is it important for chambers of commerce to be involved in their local municipality governments?
The most important reason is that local governments make a lot of decisions that significantly impact businesses and impact whether or not their business will be profitable. One of the biggest taxes that a business pays every year is the property tax. The property tax is 100 percent a local-government tax and businesses pay almost $3 billion per year every year in property taxes to local governments. There are also a lot of other types of fees that local governments asses against businesses. For example, about 120 or so municipalities in Wisconsin have established what’s called a stormwater utility and they pay for it by enclosing fees on their property owners, which almost always fall the heaviest on businesses.

How much attention should chambers of commerce be paying to municipality governments?
I think they should be paying a lot of attention because municipal governments make a lot of decisions that significantly impact businesses. I would argue that there is less and less attention being paid in traditional-print media outlets to what is happening at the local-government level. So, it’s increasingly difficult for businesses to keep tabs on what is going on at the local government level and really know what’s happening. The local chamber of commerce could be watching that on behalf of their members, and communicating what is happening to their members. That would be a significant value to their membership.

Who in the government should chambers of commerce be involved with?
I think certainly at the local-government level. If it’s a city, they should be involved with the mayor; if it’s a village, then the village president; if it’s a town, then the town board chair; and at a county level, then there is a county executive. Either way, they would want to have a relationship with those individuals because they are the top decision-makers at the local level. However, they also need to have a relationship with the actual members of the decision-making body. So, in the case of the city, we would be talking about the city council. In the case of a village, we would be talking about a village board of trustees; if it’s a township, then the town’s supervisors; and at the county level, it would be the county board of supervisors.

Can you talk through actionable steps that associations can take when they see issues that impact businesses?
For chambers of commerce, I think that one of the most important things they can do is to make sure that their members are aware of what’s going on. If businesses don’t know that it’s happening, then they’re not going to be able to participate in the decision-making in any kind of meaningful way. So, I would say the first step is awareness — make sure businesses know what’s going on. I think it’s about being an advocate, communicating, and making sure that the people who are elected to make the decisions at the local-government level understand the perspectives of the businesses that are going to be impacted.

Scott Manley joined WMC in 2005 after serving more than ten years as a policy advisor in the Wisconsin State Senate. He now serves as chief lobbyist for WMC, and oversees the government relations program by directing a team of lobbyists and policy experts. Manley also currently serves as Vice President of the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council and serves as Vice Chairman of the Great Lakes Legal Foundation.

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