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Member Profiles: Four Questions with Mary Graham

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at 12:01:00 am 

Mary Graham, CCE, Vice President of Public Policy at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the Government Relations Division Advisory Team at ACCE.  She has moderated GR workshops at the ACCE Convention, and is also a past president (twice) of the Council on Community and Economic Research (ACCRA).

Here are four questions with Mary Graham.

 

ACCE: How did you get started in chamber work, and what keeps you in the industry?

Mary: I started my chamber career in economic development at the Raleigh Chamber.  I was specifically focused on economic data and market research.  I've only been on the public policy side of chamber work for the past 6 years. 

I enjoy the work because every day is different.  While some issues are constant, there are always new challenges to take on.  In chambers, there is never a dull moment.

ACCE: What policy issues are currently occupying your time?

Mary: Issues associated with regional planning such as land use, growth management and infrastructure development are big for us right now.  Of course the economy and the upcoming elections are a top priority for everyone. 

ACCE: What are the biggest challenges your chamber/community currently face?

Mary:  Obviously the economy is biggest challenge.  State and local budget projections are down which means schools and other important government funded programs are at risk.  Businesses are worried about credit.  If you'd asked that question three weeks ago the answer would probably have been different.

ACCE: Finish this sentence. Never again will I ...

Mary:  Never again will I put something in writing that I wouldn't want on the front page of the paper.  That applies to e-mail too!  Its an old adage, but one I learned the hard way.

 

Look for more GR Division Member Profiles in the Clearinghouse Update e-newsletter and the Policy Clearinghouse Blog.

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Flexible Leave Bill in Maryland

ACCE Webmaster on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 5:17:31 pm 

A new law directing how employees are allowed to take leave time was passed last week in Maryland.  The Flexible Leave Act requires employers to allow their employee to use any type of accrued paid leave to care for the illness of an immediate family member.  The law does not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees.  It also does not mandate that that employers offer paid leave.

While the Maryland bill does not mandate that employers offer paid sick leave (like Issue 4, the recently removed Ohio ballot initiative), it does impact business through its vagueness.

The Flexible Leave Act “leaves business leaders confused,” says Allyson Black, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Maryland Chamber. “This bill offers no definitions and no guidelines for implementation.”

For more information on the Maryland Flexible Leave Act visit the Maryland Chamber Blog.

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Chambers Speak Up about the Financial Rescue Proposal

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 10:10:33 pm 

Across the country chambers are voicing their opinion about the proposed financial rescue plan currently stuck in congress.  Most statements I have read urge Congress to forgo partisanship and work swiftly to pass a bill that will restore stability to our financial markets.  Here are links to and excerpts from a few position statements:

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry - "We call on Congress and the President to work in a swift, bipartisan fashion to pass an economic rescue package that will jump start our financial markets while protecting taxpayers. This is not about bailing out Wall Street. This is about preserving the financial future of every American and Arizonan."

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce -  "For most businesses in Los Angeles, the conversation in Washington, D.C. is not about bailing out Wall Street. It is about how to maintain the flow of credit from financial institutions that is essential to day-to-day operations and the jobs associated with every private sector business in America."

Corona (CA) Chamber of Commerce - "Make no mistake: when the aftermath of Congressional inaction becomes clear, Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen. If, on the other hand, Congress supports a plan to successfully restore the financial system and preserve the flow of credit to the economy, the American people will recognize that act of courage."

The US Chamber is also urging immediate action to stabilize financial markets and "stem the financial panic."  Click HERE to read their letter to the Senate sent today.

Your representatives need to know what you think about the economic rescue package.  Make sure the voice of business in your community is heard in Washington.

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Transit Systems Flush with Riders, Strapped for Cash

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 4:09:24 pm 

In case you missed it…

Last week Tom Downs, a contributing member of the Citistates group, posted a new article about public transit on Citiwire.net entitled More Riders, High Costs: Transit’s Tough Dilemma.

The article highlights the struggle that city transit authorities currently have in dealing with a sharp increase in demand for public buses and trains coupled with record fuel costs and tight budgets. Despite increased ridership, transit systems are not realizing a bottom-line improvement because, as Downs points out, “transit ridership does not cover the cost of providing the service.”

Downs suggests emergency funding through the Federal Highway Trust Fund as one part of the solution. He states that the rising demand is an opportunity for transit authorities to “position themselves for long-term growth.”

Citiwire.net is a new service from the Citistates Group which offers weekly articles for readers interested in metropolitan policy and planning.  Each week features an article from noted columnist and Citistates Group co-founder Neal Pierce and one from another of the Citistates group associates.

Tom Downs is Chairman of the North American Board of Veolia Transportation, a subsidiary of the Paris-based Corporation which runs transit systems around the globe, including 60 in the United States. Downs was previously the CEO of Amtrak and the Commissioner of Transportation in New Jersey

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In Charlotte, Jitters Today but Confidence in Tomorrow

ACCE Webmaster on Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 12:20:53 am 

Folks in the Queen City today can be described as rattled but resilient.

Charlotte, NC woke this morning facing uncertainty after the buyout of Wachovia yesterday.  Charlotte based Wachovia, the second major bank sold in less than a week, employees over 20,000 people in the region.  Yesterday's buyout has left many Wachovia employees understandably shaken.  Bank of America, which recently acquired Wall Street brokerage Merill Lynch, is also based in Charlotte. 

News from the banking sector comes amid a persistent gas shortage that has people across western North Carolina lining up at the pumps.  For over a week now, Charlotte, Atlanta, Asheville and other metro areas across the Southeast have faced scarcity and high prices because Colonial Pipeline, which connects the area to refineries in Louisiana and Texas, is running below capacity.  Hurricanes Gustav and Ike are blamed for disruptions coming from the gas refineries.  Out-of-cycle demand among nervous motorists is also blamed for the long lines at stations with gas to sell.

Despite it all business marches on and, of course, the Charlotte Chamber is leading the way.  Natalie English, Senior Vice President of Business & Education Advocacy at the Charlotte Chamber, told me, "We are working hard to convince Citigroup that Charlotte is an ideal place to do business.  North Carolina has a favorable climate for banking and the region is flush with the skilled workforce the industry demands." 

Just this morning the Charlotte Chamber joined with other community leaders to issue a statement on the Wachovia buyout.  The release clearly articulates the case for why Citigroup should keep their newly acquired banking operation in Charlotte. 

“We will all work together to make the case to the leadership of Citigroup to retain every job that is currently in Charlotte and to encourage them to increase their investment in our community. The case is simple. We offer a labor force that is skilled in banking. We offer a cost of living that is 94 percent of the national average. And we offer attractive and affordable commercial real estate that is currently occupied by Wachovia or under construction. In addition, the Charlotte region has a transportation infrastructure and quality of life second to none."

The city certainly has plenty to brag about.  Just this week Time praised Charlotte as the city with "the nation's least-battered metropolitan-housing market, lowest office-vacancy rates and fastest-growing airport."

Charlotte, like the rest of America, will weather the current financial storm and emerge strong.

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"Friend of Labor" Speaks Out Against Card Check

ACCE Webmaster on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 6:07:00 pm 

In case you missed it...

Former senator and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern comes out against Card Check in this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal.  McGovern, a self-professed "longtime friend of labor unions," decries the Card Check bill as "counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement."  He builds his critique of the Card Check proposal around the central American philosophical value of freedom.  Freedom to form an opinion and vote, freedom from intimidation and fear of reprisal; all of which Card Check would put in jeopardy for American workers.

Please share this article with elected officials who might be on the fence about this important issue.

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Small Business Weighs In on the Financial Crisis

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, September 26, 2008 at 1:23:51 am 

How is the financial instability of the past few weeks impacting your members?  The Detroit Regional Chamber tried to answer that question this week by serving their small business members about the realized and anticipated impacts of tightened lending and failed consumer confidence.  As expected the vast majority have seen an impact and expect the climate to persist.

Here is an expert from their press release:

DETROIT - Today, the Detroit Regional Chamber polled its small business members on the current crisis gripping Wall Street and the credit markets. Over 75 percent of the survey respondents are being negatively affected by such outcomes as higher interest rates for borrowing money, less access to capital and a decline in business as consumers adjust to the economic downturn. Almost 90 percent believe the financial crisis will have a harmful impact on their small businesses in the next six to 12 months.

"It is clear small businesses are struggling because of the fragile conditions in our financial markets today," said Sarah Hubbard, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber. "The crisis threatens to shut off the lifeblood for small businesses - access to money for creating jobs and growing business."

Approximately 75 percent want the federal government to quickly respond to the crisis with a comprehensive solution. Many of the respondents cautioned that whatever proposal is enacted must be well thought out and not do more harm than good to the economy.

"The Chamber will be communicating with the Michigan Congressional Delegation and the Bush Administration to ensure they are aware of the views of small businesses in the Detroit Region. Small businesses are looking to Washington D.C. for smart solutions to deal with the problem," continued Hubbard.

How is your chamber responding to the financial crisis?  What is your strategy for communicating the value of chamber investment even in the face of hard financial times?  Please leave a comment and share your opinion.

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Card Checks Prevent Democratic Process In The Workplace

ACCE Webmaster on Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 5:41:21 pm 

I am posting an article by Randy Gordon, President and CEO, Long Beach (CA) Area Chamber of Commerce who talks about the proposal to make it easier for workers to unionize and its impact on the business community:

One of America’s greatest electoral practices is the secret ballot vote. Each person, free from the influences of outside interests, when in a polling booth can vote without anyone knowing their choice. This has been how this country does business since its inception. These same rules apply in many meetings and elections that take place in the private sector, including how union organizing is done.

Currently, if employees wish to unionize, a secret ballot vote can be arranged and conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or its state equivalent. This gives both sides the opportunity to influence the labor force on whether or not unionization would be the best for them. Then the individual employees vote in a secret ballot session. If a majority wishes to unionize, they become a union and start collective bargaining procedures. If a majority does not wish to unionize, they stay non-unionized.

Sounds fair, right?

Well two pieces of legislation threatens to change this. California’s AB 2386 (Nunez, D-Los Angeles) and Congressional bill “Employee Free Choice Act” (which is a misnomer) or EFCA are currently circulating in their respective legislatures. Both of these would change current labor laws to allow for a process known as “card checks” for unionization.

This method would allow union organizers the option of sending out “support cards” that the workforce simply has to sign saying they wish to unionize. If a majority sends it back to the NLRB, then they will automatically become a union.

The problem with this method is that these organizers have been known to intimidate, harass, and bother individuals until they sign off on his card. The pressure is often times relentless and employees do not have the freedom of a secret vote.

The Long Beach Chamber stands ready to defend the rights of employees to have a secret ballot vote on whether or not they wish to unionize. We officially oppose AB 2386 and are working with the United States Chamber of Commerce to help fight the “EFCA”. In the coming weeks, we will be launching a letter-writing campaign to prevent AB 2386’s passage. However, on a federal level, we need your help. We need you to contact your local congressional and state legislators to let them know that card checks is the wrong approach.

Recently, former United States Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern penned an article in the Wall Street Journal urging his party to move away from card checks and that it goes against the democratic way of doing things. If McGovern thinks that these policies are too extreme for him, they probably are.

- Shaun Lumachi

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Card Check - Did You Know?

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, September 19, 2008 at 11:30:11 pm 

By now I hope all business leaders are aware of Card Check and understand that this piece of legislation would be a game-changer for labor relations in this country.  (If you are not, please check out PolicyClearinghouse.org or call me at 703-998-3530.)  But you may have overlooked some of the critical details included in this proposal, for example the binding arbitration clause.

Under Card Check, collective bargaining would have to commence within 10 days of union certification. If the employer and the union fail to reach an agreement after 120 days, negotiations would enter binding arbitration before a federal arbitration panel. Binding arbitration provides no incentive for either side to bargain productively during the initial bargaining phase.  In fact, it gives each side incentive to take the most extreme position possible.

As we approach the next congressional session, make sure you know the facts about Card Check and be ready to your elected representatives what the business community thinks.

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Community Colleges see Swelling Ranks

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, September 19, 2008 at 5:18:17 pm 

Community colleges in North Carolina are experiencing an enrollment surge according to a recent article in the Raleigh News and Observer.  Numbers are up 7-13% over last fall at community and technical colleges across the state, and the trend can be found nationwide according to this Aug 22 article from Inside Higher Ed.com.  That article cites US Department of Education estimates that project at 10% increase in community college enrollment this year, equal to enrollment growth that occurred in 6 years from 2000 until 2006.

Historically, community college enrollment grows quickly when unemployment increases. This rationale holds true for North Carolina where unemployment is at 6.6% statewide, up nearly 2% from last August. However, administrators note that the influx of new students is coming, not only from career changers seeking re-training, but from would-be 4 year university students who are looking to save money on tuition.  Which brings us back to the issue of college affordability.

Those of you who regularly follow the Clearinghouse Blog will recall two recent blog posts about college affordability: Prepaid College in Texas earlier this week, and Kentucky Chamber Tackles Post-Secondary Education Affordability in August.  Its clear that the price of college tuition is a big issue for families and thus, a big issue for your members who desperately need new talent.  Get in front of this important workforce issue.  Check out the plans in Kentucky and Texas to see if they may work in your state.  To find out how your chamber can better cooperate with the local community college go to the American Association of Community Colleges for their study on Market-Responsive Community Colleges.  For a detailed look at how the American public perceives access to education and the rising cost of college, check out Squeeze Play: How Parents and the Public look at Higher Education Today, a study conducted by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

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