Member Profile - Norma Ritz Johnson
Norma is an active member of the ACCE Government Relations Division Advisory Board. She leads the policy and government relations program for the Lubbock (TX) Chamber, a 2008 ACCE Chamber of the Year Award Winner. She's a graduate of Texas Tech and is currently completing the US Chamber's Institute for Organizational Management program.
For this interview I caught Norma in the airport on her way the state house in Austin.
ACCE: How did you get started in chamber work, and what keeps you in the profession?
Norma: I first came in contact with the chamber while working as Communications Director at National Grain Sorghum Producers Association. My communications role sort of morphed into issues management and policy oriented work during the very demanding 2002 Farm Bill negotiations. When you have a small staff, you take on new roles, I think chamber folks can appreciate that.
While at NGSP, I was a member of the Chamber's Legislative Affairs Committee and participated in, as well as sponsored, the Chamber's D.C. Fly-In. I developed some great relationships with the people here at the Chamber, and that helped pave the way for my taking on this role here when the opportunity presented itself.
Policy and legislation affects every area of life and work, and I enjoy helping others engage in and understand the process and its significance. The opportunity to represent and make a difference for small businesses and business in general is the best part of my job, and the bonus is that I get to do that while helping Lubbock grow. I have a special affection and dedication to the Lubbock area. Though I grew up in a tiny community about 30 miles from Lubbock, I was born and married within one block of the Chamber building.
ACCE: What policy issues are currently occupying your time?
Norma: Our state legislature meets biennially, in odd-numbered years for 140 days, and we are almost at the half-way mark of the 81st Texas Legislature. There are a number of issues we're monitoring and active on, but our priorities are Tier One status for Texas Tech University, health care and health insurance related legislation, transportation, and water. I'm actually on my way to the state capitol waiting to testify on a bill related to health care purchasing cooperatives that we have been working on. It will allow even greater potential improvements to our award-winning Lubbock Chamber Employer Health Plan. Yesterday, I crafted and distributed an "Action Alert" urging state legislators not to replace the 5-member Texas Transportation Commission with a single commissioner. Since we are in a less populous area of Texas away from the metropolitan center, geographic diversity and representation is always a priority for us.
ACCE: What are the biggest challenges your chamber/community currently face?
Norma: Access to water and sufficient funding to develop this infrastructure is an important local issue. Meanwhile, an aging population and the ability to retain young people are important for the future vitality of our community and to ensure population growth. Though Lubbock's economic indicators continue to look favorable compared with much of the nation, our Chamber like so many others, is watching the situation and our own bottom line closely and strategizing to be ready to help our members through this downturn in the economy. We're also working to ensure that local consumers keep the situation in perspective.
ACCE: Finish this sentence. Never again will I...
Norma: Never again will I assume that there will be someone else or some other organization to take on initiative or issue while the Chamber merely weighs in the background. Lately we've taken a more hands-on approach with many issues. We take the initiative on projects because it's our responsibility, and with many issues, if we don't do take them on, who will?