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Legislative Priorities for 2019: An Advocate’s Perspective

By Phil Stalnaker

July 31st marks an important day for any baseball fan. It’s the trade deadline. That means, especially with the new rules established at the beginning of this year, the players your team has after the deadline has passed are the players they will have at the end of the season. Any hope for upgrades are gone. For some, this is a day of celebration; maybe your team picked up that essential piece that can raise them up to the next level of play, or maybe they picked up that superstar that will bring in the budget numbers to be competitive into the future. For others, this is a day of hope; hope in a future that will provide a return to the glory days.

A team determines who they go after at the trade deadline by assessing their needs and determining their priorities. What is the most important need to address? For my favorite team, this year’s focus was on improving relief pitching. This is where the value of the front office team comes into focus. It can be easy to say that we need a starting pitcher who can go eight innings, or a big bat that will provide those extra runs. The best teams typically have front offices that can properly analyze and determine what the top priorities are for their team and execute appropriate strategies that lead to the specific desired outcome. Hopefully, I can say come November that my team did just that.

The Membership Advocacy Committee

It is that kind of leadership that has led the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce (GFMCC) to a successful and impactful debut of the Member Advocacy Committee (MAC). Created in 2017, the MAC is designed to “act as a voice for business on legislative, community and economic development issues within Greater Fort Myers through leadership and education” (https://fortmyers.org/member-advocacy/). Developing priorities that protect and proactively supplicate our members’ opportunities for success are of paramount importance to the chamber. What makes 2019 particularly intriguing is that there are numerous, giant-sized issues with a preponderance of avenues in which to get lost. I am thankful to say that I serve with an incredible team made up of chamber staff and membership who together see the value in hard work for the betterment of other people.

Though many issues are brought up to the MAC, the availability of resources mixed with the level of importance they hold for the entire base of our membership dictate how we handle and invest in each issue. Some may be opportunities for educating the public, others might require the chamber to take an official position or even to lead a coalition with the purpose of enacting change. It is this efforts with issues brought to us by chamber members that led to the development of the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers, an alliance of 7 regional chambers that are now working together on significant issues impacting the region and state. It also provides us with a larger voice on issues in the higher levels of government where local entities may not have much sway.

Legislative Priorities: Tourism

The GFMCC is constantly at work for you, being your advocate in issues that impact your ability to succeed in southwest Florida. Did you know that 1 in 5 people in Lee County are employed because of tourism (https://www.leevcb.com/education-and-resources/statistics/value-of-tourism)? Catch that: that does not mean that 20% of the jobs in our county are tourism jobs, it means that 20% of our population is employed purely because of tourism. That includes companies like mine who provide information technology services. If Lee County didn’t have tourism, 20% of my workforce couldn’t be supported. That works the same for all of us. This is why the chamber has taken a position to support the full funding and reauthorization of Visit Florida, a public/private partnership that exists to “maximize the economic impact of travel and tourism to Florida” (https://www.visitflorida.org/about-us/what-we-do/). Some may say that we don’t need to market our state to outsiders, as the sun and beaches will do that for us, but we have seen the lessons other states have learned by cutting their marketing budget and understand the significant impact Visit Florida has on our community. That’s why we develop priorities such as these, so that we can be efficient and powerful with our voice on your behalf.

Legislative Priorities: Water Quality

Simply put, the chamber succeeds when our member businesses succeed. And though not all individuals see eye to eye on how to handle these problems, the GFMCC is dedicated to listening to our membership and acting on their behalf both locally and state-wide. On our own and in conjunction with the Alliance of Chambers, we have passed resolutions that show we are taking the issue of water quality seriously and support the strong commitments made by Governor DeSantis and his administration to combat Florida’s water quality crisis. We support and are actively working towards the successful completion of restoration projects, better Lake Okeechobee level management, lowering the source of pollution in the lake and even asking questions about stemming the intensity of naturally occurring blooms of red tide.

Legislative Priorities: Minimum Wage

It is priorities such as these that we believe will bring positive impact to our member business and community at large. This is why we have also prioritized issues such as the quality of our water and also the upcoming debate on the minimum wage gap. These issues will directly affect job growth and economic impact. Do you know that in the proposed legislation for raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, there is no allowance for tips in the service industry (https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/workforce/congressional-democrats-air-plan-kill-tip-credit-raise-minimum-wage-15)? As of today, tip earners are paid a lower hourly wage than non-tipped employees, but have a near limit-less income ceiling by collecting tips. If the proposed legislation passes, then tip earners will lose that, capping their income and ultimately lowering the total amount of wages they could earn. And yet, this legislation is being marketed as a benefit for them! This is without even beginning to describe the impact it will have on employers of tipped workers. One restauranteur in the chamber estimated that his expected expenses could increase by six figures once this goes into full effect.

The GFMCC believes compensation should be based, not on what state or federal mandates, but on what the local market will bear. Sure, companies like McDonald’s are complying with this wage hike, but at the same time, they are cutting the number of their employees and are replacing them with touch-screen kiosks (https://www.forbes.com/sites/edrensi/2018/07/11/mcdonalds-says-goodbye-cashiers-hello-kiosks/#492a92fc6f14). Because topics like these are understandably divisive, we are completely focused on making sure our research and data is clear and our positions are confidently stated in the best interest of our member businesses.

EMPOWER. CONNECT.UNITE.

The chamber cannot be a voice on every single issue, but we can prioritize and speak up for these issues that influence your ability to succeed, either as an employee or business owner. That is why the above issues are on our plate; since this is a priority to your success, it is a priority to us. This is why you receive invitations from the GFMCC for special events or notices to call your legislative representative. Regardless of which side of the aisle you may lean, we are committed to you and will continue to provide you with education, advocacy and opportunity. Let us encourage you to UNITE with us; share what issues are affecting you, or what you feel needs considered. Maybe you would like to CONNECT and become an advocate on our team. Or maybe it is EMPOWERING to know that we are out there, working on your behalf, so that you can focus on your business.