Staying ahead of Industry 4.0 v

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, December 14, 2017 at 12:15:00 pm 

The Quad Cities Chamber, which serves business in the five-city metro region of northwestern Illinois and southeastern Iowa, launched its Manufacturing Innovation Hub in 2015. The Hub, as it’s called, was designed to be a one-stop resource center for regional manufacturers to learn about the latest technologies impacting their industries.

“We’re in the start of what we call Industry 4.0,” said Mike Coughlin, executive director of the Manufacturing Innovation Hub. “With all the information available now, the question is, ‘how do our companies actually utilize that information in their systems to become more efficient?’”

The program helps businesses identify opportunities for technology adoption within companies’ systems and supply chains. It uses one-on-one assessments, during which specialists tour facilities and workshops, administer questionnaires and meet with management to discuss current and projected trends in high-tech and manufacturing.

“We have local experts who go in and provide assessments to organizations looking for opportunities to add efficiency,” said Coughlin. “When we’ve identified such an opportunity, we provide them with local companies that possess the skill set to assist them in capitalizing on the knowledge they’ve gained.”

In 2016, The Hub launched its Technology Roadmap, which outlined regional strengths and weaknesses in manufacturing, as well as emerging technologies like virtual reality, robotics and data analytics.

“We gathered all the data and locked about 40 people with different skill sets in a meeting room for a couple of days,” recounted Coughlin. “The roadmap helps companies understand what the technology is, how it will affect them, how to integrate it and who to contact for guidance.”

“The goal of the meetings and conversations was to create a real understanding of how these technologies will disrupt our industries,” he continued. “We’re engaged with our local colleges and universities, so we’re able to bring them an understanding of what the business community is saying with regards to needs and training.”

Coughlin says the benefits of the program will be felt by all industries in the region, as the knowledge shared filters back into the workplace, leading to increased efficiency and productivity for manufacturers and businesses.

“These conversation need to continue so we can raise awareness and foster a community-wide dialogue,” said Coughlin. “The synergies you get from building this ecosystem and having conversations like this will enhance the opportunities for all businesses in the Quad Cities region.”

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Tags: Innovation, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub, Technology

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LAUNCHing careers in South Central Kentucky

Ben Goldstein on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 9:15:00 am 

SCK LAUNCH is an initiative of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce that encourages students to explore local career opportunities, while learning valuable soft-skills at the same time.

“We have about 6,000 open positions in South Central Kentucky right now,” explained Kim Phelps, vice president of communications and public policy at the Bowling Green Chamber. “This is a wonderful place to live and work, but as the community grows, we want our kids to stay, and we want our alumni to come back to work here also.”

The initiative was conceived as an extension of two successful programs in the community: The Leader in Me, which teaches elementary school students about leadership and soft skills; and LEAD, which further develops those skills for middle school students. SCK LAUNCH, in contrast, builds on those programs by exposing teens to local industries to get them thinking about potential careers.

“Our students are learning leadership skills from the time they’re in kindergarten all the way through graduation,” said Phelps. “When they get to high school, it becomes more about laying the hard skills on top of the soft skills, and when students graduate, they will have an industry credential of some kind,” she added.

SCK LAUNCH offers career shadowing to high school students to raise awareness about the variety of careers available in the region. Through the program, teens get the opportunity to tour plants and facilities, meet with employees and observe how they work in their natural environments..

Through “educator externships,” teachers visit companies to learn about the types of jobs offered and the education and skills required. Afterward, they can adjust their curricula and lesson plans to more effectively steer students into local career opportunities.

“A lot of teachers go from high school to college and then straight back to the classroom, so they actually don’t have a clear picture of what they are preparing their students for,” explained Phelps. “These experiences give them context, so they can help students understand why the work they’re doing is valuable.”

Phelps cites the newly-cemented relationship between business and education as the greatest achievement of SCK LAUNCH, and says she hopes collaboration will continue—even after the chamber eventually dials back its own involvement in the initiative.

“One of the things that has been so unique and rewarding for us is having the business and education communities sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye and actually talk to one another,” she said. “At the end of the day, the integration of the career mindset in our schools is really the goal.”

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Tags: Workforce Development, Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, Internships, SCK Launch, Soft Skills, STEM

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College town makes the grade

Ben Goldstein on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 8:00:00 am 

In early November, a group of stakeholders from Tuscaloosa publicly signed a memorandum of agreement outlining a shared commitment to integrate the region’s manufacturing and industrial base to better match the skills of students graduating from the University of Alabama.

The move was intended to realign the local economy to include more knowledge-based, tech-driven jobs, so the university city could retain a larger portion of its student population.

“The opportunity we have from an economic development perspective is diversifying our economic base,” said Jim Page, president and CEO at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “We’re hoping this formal partnership is going to lead to more knowledge-based jobs being created, so we can hold on to a larger percentage of our college grads.”

The memorandum was signed at the chamber’s annual State of the Economy event, in which it hosts local economic and subject matter experts to forecast trends for the upcoming year. The function was attended by elected leaders, university administrators and several local development agencies.

“The ceremony was really about generating public awareness, as much as anything,” said Page, adding that, “It was largely a symbolic gesture that shows we’re going to start working toward this new goal of collaboration.”

Page says the agreement was inspired by conversations from conference calls and roundtables with the University Communities Council, an ACCE peer-group that enables chamber pros from college towns to collaborate and share best practices. He credits Vern Squier from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County in Pennsylvania and Lyle Butler from the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce in Kansas for introducing him to similar agreements from their regions.

“Right out of the gate, I’ve got two chamber colleagues who’ve had success doing this, so there was kind of a template for our group to use,” he said. “We never would’ve known about those agreements — and chances are we wouldn’t be where we are now — had I not been engaged with the University Communities Council.”

“We’re hoping this will enable us to grow and recruit more knowledge-based, white-collar jobs,” he added. “I’m hopeful that all of those forces working together can turn years of talk into real action, and that action will result in a diversified economic base that allows us to retain more of our best and brightest college students.”

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Tags: University Cities Council

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Midwestern momentum

Ben Goldstein on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 9:35:00 am 

For Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, the most important part of any strategic plan is the results. So when the chamber and its community partners began crafting Momentum 2022, he opted for a five-year plan, as opposed to some of the longer-running strategic documents seen elsewhere.

“We chose a 60-month plan because we wanted to have an immediate and measurable impact,” said Pivarnik. “We didn’t call this Momentum 2035 or Momentum 2050 for a reason.”

In its early stages, the plan was guided by a 43-member steering committee that drew from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Among the committee’s findings was a need for enhanced talent development efforts to build out a stronger workforce for the region.

“We put a very heavy focus on development of homegrown talent in Momentum 2022,” said Kayla Bitler, strategic coordinator at the Greater Topeka Chamber. “Some areas of emphasis are ensuring that all children are ready for kindergarten, and that every student has a pathway to college or a career.”

A second leg of the campaign is enhancing “quality of place” in the Topeka region, by building out amenities like pedestrian walkways, expanding access to the city’s riverfront and adding more recreational and residential offerings to the city’s downtown core—a process Pivarnik says is already underway.

“We’re seeing a real resurgence in restaurants and bars,” he said, adding, “If you want a loft in downtown, you’ll have to get in line, because right now everyone wants a loft in downtown.”

The plan calls for the consolidation of the Greater Topeka Chamber and three other economic development groups — GO Topeka, Visit Topeka and Downtown Topeka Inc. — into one umbrella organization, which will be called Greater Topeka Partnership. The organizations will retain their boards and CEOs, and will coordinate through a council including the four CEOs, their chair-elects and several at-large members.

“Bringing together these four groups will enable all of us to perform our work with a type of coordination we haven’t seen in the past,” said Curtis Sneeden, the chamber’s executive vice president. “We’ll enjoy a number of operational efficiencies just by being together under one roof.”

Pivarnik says he brought the idea for the consolidation of the four groups with him from his previous role at the Greater Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, which operates under a similar structure.

“When I was at the Tulsa Chamber, which has 15-plus organizations and brands operating under one umbrella, I didn’t understand how powerful that structure really was until I had to operate without it,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s efficient for cities to have all of these separate convention and visitors bureaus and downtown organizations.”

Pivarnik says he hopes that by 2022, people from around the world will think of Topeka as a city that has undergone a rapid transformation in a short period of time.

“When people hear about Topeka, Kansas, in the future, I want them to think of it as a ‘renaissance city,’ and a magnet for entrepreneurial development and talent attraction,” he said. “We want people from around the world to know about all of the positive things happening in our region.”

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Tags: Economic Development, Strategic Plan, Talent Attraction and Retention, Topeka Chamber

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Immigration fuels the Great Lakes region

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 9:00:00 am 

The Great Lakes region is an economic powerhouse, fueled by manufacturing, international trade and a combined GDP of more than $6 trillion.

One of the biggest drivers of regional growth is sometimes absent from the popular narrative—immigration. That message is on display in a new report from the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, published in partnership with New American Economy.

“We wanted to respond to the narrative that our region is isolationist and not welcoming of immigrants,” said Brandon Mendoza, manager of government affairs at the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to say, 'actually, immigration in this region has helped accelerate our economies away from what folks refer to as the Rust Belt and the manufacturing decline.'”

One important way that immigration fuels economic growth is by combatting population decline and out-migration. Immigrants were responsible for more than half of the region’s population growth from 2000–15. Foreign-born workers are also younger, on average, than their native-born counterparts, which helps keep the region’s workforce youthful and vital as Baby Boomers retire in large numbers.

“When you look at the top 25 metros in the Great Lakes area, immigration has been a net-positive in terms of reversing out-migration and growing their populations,” said Mendoza. “It’s a lifeblood for a lot of these cities like Pittsburgh, Rochester or Akron, where slow population growth really acts as a drag on economic growth, in general.”

But immigrants are not only filling jobs, the report found. They are also creating them, in large numbers. The study found that immigrant entrepreneurs make up 20 percent of small business owners, and have created over 226,000 jobs in the region from 2000–15.

“Immigrants, by their very nature, are risk-takers,” explained Mendoza. “They’re taking a big risk moving to a foreign country and restarting, so they’re more inclined to start new businesses.”

Mendoza stressed that immigration should be understood as a regional issue, not a national one.

“Our whole message is that we should be thinking about immigration in terms of regions,” he said. “In the Great Lakes region, we really need to make sure our immigration numbers are high and we’re supporting high-skill immigrants, as well as comprehensive legislation at some point in the future.”

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Tags: Great Lakes Chambers Coalition, Great Lakes Region, Immigration, Research, Survey

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Energized to save

Ben Goldstein on Monday, November 13, 2017 at 8:00:00 am 

Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, has seen a lot of things change in his 17-year career leading the organization. And even now, as he makes plans to step down from the helm, Rescigno is exploring ways to transform the chamber’s energy footprint to a more sustainable model better-suited for the 21st century.

He’s doing it through the Energize Connecticut initiative, a partnership between the state of Connecticut and its utility providers that helps businesses and residences trim energy costs. The program is funded through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which, in turn, is paid for through a surcharge on customer energy bills.

“A year ago we went from having a lease that didn’t include energy costs to a new lease that required us to pay, and you have a different attitude when you have to pay for it,” said Rescigno. “Through this program, we’ve estimated projected savings of over $5,000 annually, which is huge for us.”

Rescigno says the chamber has already realized substantial savings by swapping out the chamber’s old lighting for 256 LED fixtures designed to reduce costs and improve lighting quality. Next, he wants to replace the chamber’s fleet of 45 heating and air conditioning units with newer, more efficient models through the energy initiative.

“The cost of energy in the state of Connecticut is unbelievably high, and it’s one of the major deficits we face trying to attract businesses,” said Rescigno. “The fact that we’re showing other businesses how to lower those costs by investing in energy efficient alternatives is something we’re very proud of.”

Through Energize Connecticut, workers from state utility United Illuminating visited the chamber and drafted a conservation plan to help it identify opportunities for saving. The chamber’s monthly lighting bills are already one-third lower, down from $1,500 to $1,000.

“The first thing they do is send somebody to do an analysis and literally count the light fixtures,” said Rescigno. “The total investment on our part is less than $4,000, and we plan on making that all up in a year or less, so we weren’t at all worried about putting up the cash for this.”

Rescigno, who announced plans to retire earlier this year, said he’s accepted a part-time position at Southern Connecticut State University as a business executive-in-residence. One of his tasks in that job will be facilitating collaboration between the local business community and its talented student population, which includes Yale University.

“My next job will involve connecting the business school with the students with the businesses in the region,” he said. “That plays into my strengths, because I’ve been around a long time and I know a lot of these people.”

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Tags: Cost-Savings, Energy usage, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Sustainability

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Harnessing the Internet of Things

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 2:36:00 pm 

Atlanta, home to the world’s busiest airport and some of the top global supply chain companies, has long been known as a transportation hub. Now, the city is leveraging its expertise to capitalize on the next big technology in logistics and connectedness: the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of devices, appliances and other items embedded with electronic sensors through the infrastructure of the internet. Its proponents predict that it will disrupt and revolutionize everything from manufacturing and supply chain management to healthcare and energy management.

“Infrastructure-wise, we’ve already got the framework here in Atlanta to be a leader in the mobile IoT space,” said Cynthia Curry, director of IoT at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “We have strong ecosystems like cybersecurity and fintech that are going to be vital to the growth of IoT.”

In September, Metro Atlanta Chamber expanded the focus of its major councils to include the biggest regional voices in IoT, like GE, AT&T and The Weather Company. The new taskforce, IoT.Atl, will focus on expanding educational offerings for IoT-related skills, bridging relationships between small firms and large enterprises and attracting top IoT talent and investment to the Atlanta region.

“Mobile IoT is basically touching everything right now,” said Curry. “When you take IoT and all the data that’s going to be generated from the billions of connected devices and combine that with the open-source, open data mentality we’re moving toward, we’ll be able to gain much better insight on what’s happening in the world around us.”

Atlanta is already experimenting with IoT and big data. In 2016, the city partnered with Georgia Tech to construct the North Avenue Smart Corridor, which uses hundreds of embedded sensors to remotely monitor lighting and energy levels and help police catch criminals by tracking gunfire in high-crime areas.   

“There are huge economic reasons why this will impact companies’ bottom lines and help them save millions of dollars,” said Curry, adding that, “What’s perhaps more important, though, are the huge health benefits we can realize from monitoring things like diabetes and heart disease through connected devices, if managed correctly.”

The IoT innovations being pursued in Atlanta will ultimately better the quality of life in the city for everyone,” says Curry.

“I think it’s going to work itself out of the tech community and into the citizens’ everyday lives,” she predicted. “I see Atlanta being one of the next smart cities of the future and people here being able to enjoy easier commutes, safer environments and better health care.”

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Tags: Internet of Things, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Technology

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Indy goes global

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 1:42:00 pm 

Indianapolis, with its burgeoning life sciences, technology and manufacturing sectors, has transformed itself into a bona fide global city. To capitalize on its rising status, the Indy Chamber and its community partners spearheaded Accelerate Indy, the metro area’s first comprehensive strategic plan in more than 20 years.

“Accelerate Indy is a strategy for the next 10 years on how to move this region forward,” said Maureen Krauss, chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber. “It was a truly inclusive process between mayors, economic developers, private business and the philanthropic community—which really says a lot about how things are done here.”

A major leg of the plan calls for fostering talent among startups and entrepreneurs. Accelerate Indy addresses this through the Business Ownership Initiative, which contains the largest chamber-run microloan program in the U.S., and offers business coaching with a curriculum that includes topics like building a business plan and managing financials.

The plan also aims to expand and diversify international trade in the nine-county metropolitan area. This led the chamber and its partners to develop the Metro Indianapolis Global Trade & Investment Strategy, which aims to expand global trade by leveraging the region’s life sciences ecosystem and investing in its transportation infrastructure.  

“Indiana is already the number one export-dependent state in the U.S., but the bulk of that trade is concentrated in just a handful of large corporations,” said Krauss. “This plan will help our companies realize the benefits of a diverse customer base, while exploring new markets and technology partnerships.”

To embrace its newfound global status, the Indy Chamber has helped the city send ambassadors to countries like Poland, Hungary and Cuba. It is also trying to get local companies focused on global opportunities through Global Indy, a program that serves as a resource center for businesses looking to advance their international operations.

“By encouraging international decision makers to come here and have dialogue, we’re strengthening our base and helping our economy grow,” said Krauss. “It’s made a big difference building awareness that we have strong assets in our region that are valuable around the world.”

Accelerate Indy helps the region’s largest players, or its “anchors,” expand through the Anchor Revitalization Initiative, which boosts these companies by strengthening supply chain relationships and further developing their talent pipelines.

“It used to be the case that economic development strategies would be focused solely on getting companies to move from other regions,” said Krauss. “We know how many jobs are created by our businesses here in Indy, so we’re trying to figure out how we can help them continue to grow and expand.”

The chamber has used surveying, focus groups and research from local and national consulting firms to formulate a communications strategy that complements the economic development components of Accelerate Indy. The goal, says Krauss, is to better tell the story of the Indianapolis business community.

“Any time we want to tell our story, we want it to be authentic,” she said. “Doing this really deep dive into the components of our story is ultimately going to boost business and talent attraction in Indy.”

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Tags: Accelerate Indy, Chambers of Commerce, Indy Chamber, Strategic Plan

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Work hard, play hard

Ben Goldstein on Monday, October 23, 2017 at 10:00:00 am 

At the Vail Valley Partnership in Eagle County, Colorado, President and CEO Chris Romer encourages staff to take a “work hard, play hard” approach to doing business. Under the VVP's Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE), employees are evaluated solely on the results of their work—and given maximum autonomy to figure out how best to get the job done.

“At its simplest form, this is about treating adults like adults, and it’s about individual and team accountability,” said Romer. “If you manage people, they’re going to do the minimum of what needs to be done, but if you set the example and lead, then they will want to lead too.”

As part of the ROWE philosophy, VVP doesn’t adhere to the 40-hour, 8 a.m.5 p.m. work schedule common at most businesses and nonprofits. Instead, employees are only required to be physically present in the office for 20 hours each week and are empowered to structure the rest of their hours as they deem fit.

“We don’t think the most effective way to lead a team is by tracking where people are at every single hour,” said Romer. “We encourage staff to go to their kids’ school plays or volunteer in the community. If someone wants to take a yoga class on a Tuesday at 10 a.m., they shouldn’t have to take paid time off or track comp time to do that.”

Employees at VVP are given unlimited time off, so they can handle unexpected events like illnesses or family emergencies. The chamber is also experimenting with a new policy that would incentivize employees to “unplug” for two weeks each year, meaning they don’t check emails or engage with staff electronically during their vacation.

“We’re asking people to leave the electronics; no voicemail, no email and no checking on work,” said Romer. “With the golden handcuff of the technology, you’re not fully present with your family and when you come back, it’s almost like you were never gone because you were checking your email and voicemail every day.”

Some Fridays during ski season, the staff will take a morning off to hit the slopes together. Employees are granted free ski passes as a perk, which they can swap for other recreational benefits like stand-up paddleboards or yoga classes, says Romer.

“It goes back to valuing people and recognizing what we are as a community,” he said. “If skiing is their thing or yoga is their thing and it makes them happy, then they can come to work and be jazzed because they had a great time in the morning."

Despite the generous amenities and flexible work schedule, it’s not all fun and games at VVP. Employees are expected to live up to their end of the bargain by meeting monthly benchmarks and quarterly goals.

“We don’t do annual reviews with our team—we set targets and benchmarks and we review those on a monthly and quarterly basis,” said Romer. “It’s an ongoing feedback loop and dialogue with the team.”

Romer says that a flexible and accommodative workplace culture has translated into higher employee retention and customer service levels.

“It’s great from both an employee and member retention standpoint,” he said. “We give people direct ownership over their jobs, and that encourages them to provide a really high level of service.”

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Tags: Flexible scheduling, Paid Time Off Policy, Vail Valley Partnership, Workplace environment

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Nevada Lights up the Capitol

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 11:20:00 am 

Lawmakers and Hill staffers were treated to a night at the casino when the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual gala on Capitol Hill last week.

At the celebration, dubbed Nevada Lights up the Capitol, attendees sporting cowboy hats and bandanas were greeted by cigarette girls and Venetian stilt walkers, as a jazz trio rattled off show-tunes and a contortionist writhed on a platform in the dimly-lit hall.

“We view this as an opportunity to bring our members together and enable them to build relationships with our leaders here in Washington, D.C.,” said Kristin McMillan, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “It’s a great way to celebrate our state, while at the same time communicating to people in D.C. that there are important issues in the western part of the U.S. that need to be addressed.”

Guests at the party tried their luck at an assortment of table games like blackjack, craps and roulette, while snacking on hors d'oeuvres and sipping cocktails. Vendors representing organizations from across the state manned booths distributing swag and chatting with passersby.

“This isn’t just southern or northern Nevada—it’s the whole state,” said Bill Noonan, senior vice president at the Boyd Gaming Corporation and chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. “We have such a diversity of things to offer people who come and visit, and we want everybody to be exposed to that tonight.”

The gala kicked off the chamber’s annual D.C. fly-in, a tradition that dates back to 2006. Aside from the festivities, the chamber uses the trip as a chance to engage lawmakers, agency officials and policy experts on longstanding regional issues, like its ongoing opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository due to safety and environmental concerns.

“Yucca Mountain has resurrected itself with the new administration, so we’re fighting it with a multi-pronged approach,” said Cara Clarke, associate vice president of communications at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “Because tourism is so vital to our entire state economy, any type of accident, even a minor one, could devastate that industry and scare tourists. It’s just too much of a risky proposition.”

Infrastructure is also a major priority for the delegation, which wants to see construction begin on Interstate 11, a planned freeway that would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas. Those metro areas are currently the two largest adjacent U.S. cities without a direct freeway link.

“With Interstate 11, eventually, we’re talking about building a pathway between the new ports under construction in the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Canada,” said Clarke. “The connecting of business and economies and trade and shipping will all be huge drivers for the entire U.S economy.”

McMillan says that she hopes that those who interact with the delegation during its time in Washington will gain a greater awareness of the issues that affect the western U.S.

“So many decisions that are made in Washington are viewed from an east coast perspective,” she said. “We’re hoping that there starts to be more understanding that when you invest in the West, you’re actually growing the national economy, too.”

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Tags: D.C. Fly-in, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, Washington

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