Monday, January 6, 2014

2013--Setting a New Standard for Business Advocacy

In 2013, we set a new standard for business advocacy at the Greater Flagstaff Chamber. Representing our member interests before government, we affected positive changes advancing the success of the Flagstaff business community and region.

Locally, we saw many successes that will help businesses grow and keep our community strong:
  • As an integral part of Mayor Jerry Nabours’ roundtable on zoning map amendments, we helped draft a new process that will relax some of the requirements for anyone wishing to rezone a parcel of land.
  • We also advocated for a more reasonable update to energy code standards for new homes built in our city. Instead of the proposed adoption of the 2012 International Energy Code, which would have added burdensome costs to new homes in a community that is already 56% above the national average for the housing costs. Instead, we advocated successfully for an amendment that is less stringent but still emphasizes our  commitment to energy efficiency.
  • We were very active in contributing to the city’s draft of the Regional Plan 2030 document, which has been developed over the last four years. Through our Community and Economic Development Committee, we combed through the plan and offered significant input to the city council, much of which was adopted. The most important changes approved were adding prefatory language stating that the goals and policies expressed throughout the document were not law, but guidelines, thereby softening much of the business-unfriendly obligations. Council also reversed the emphasis on compact housing developments, instead allowing for a variety of housing, most important of which is single family housing. Much of the economic development chapter was also changed at our suggestion, notably adding sections stressing the importance of Pulliam Airport and its business park as well as more emphasis on our robust tourism industry.
  • We supported the proposed expansion of the Little America hotel property as a welcome creator of hundreds of local jobs through both the construction and staffing once the build-out is completed. At City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, we advocated in favor of the project, which will also  make Little America a destination resort benefitting the entire city. Between additional jobs,  more sales for our local businesses and increased city revenues through the Bed, Board, and Beverage (BBB) tax, it is estimated the economic benefit of the expansion to Flagstaff will be $34 million annually.

During the 2013 state legislative session we advocated for, and helped win passage of, two issues that are vital to the continued success and future vibrancy of our community:
  • Restoration and expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), or state Medicaid program. This legislation advanced by Gov. Jan Brewer (right) as part of her 2013-2014 budget, allowed the state to accept a temporary 10-to-1 federal funding match to provide health insurance to those living up to 133% of the federal poverty level. It also restored coverage to the more than 141,000 individuals who were cut from the program in 2011, a loss that caused significant problems in our hospitals and drove up private health insurance premiums by 8.8%.
  • Formal legislative adoption of the state’s new College and Career Ready Standards. The Greater Flagstaff Chamber has long made educational reforms one of its core initiatives and the 2013 legislative session provided an opportunity for a major overhaul of state standards, which will allow our students to compete on both national and international levels as they progress to college and the workforce. The standards were developed by a bipartisan coalition of governors from 46 states.
In 2013, we expanded the Greater Flagstaff Chamber’s profile with our national government by building on existing relationships, resulting in visits to our Chamber by highly influential government officials. In a 50-day period, we hosted before membership Sen. John McCain,  Sen. Jeff Flake as well as Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.
  • On the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) we worked closely with our senators and Congressman Gosar to seek answers from the US Forest Service (USFS) on how they planned to protect the Northern Arizona region from a devastating fire when the project was dangerously behind schedule. Senator Flake was able to pass out of committee a reauthorization of the ability of the Forest Service to enter into stewardship contracts such as 4FRI that includes new language to make such contracts more workable and successful.
  • We held a forum on the federal Affordable Care Act to ensure that in 2013 our members knew all the necessary information regarding the new law and how it affected them. Our panel featured Herb Shultz (below left), President Obama’s appointee as Director of Region IX of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Schultz joined us from San Francisco where he oversees health care law for several western states, territories, and tribal nations.
  • We remained heavily involved in the dispute over new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), advocating for a major economic engine to Northern Arizona that has created over 1,000 jobs and will pump over $20 billion into our state’s economy over the next 30 years. We have written several letters to our Congressional delegation, as well as directly to the EPA, expressing our support for NGS, and most recently we signed onto an amicus brief that has been filed with the United States Supreme Court which will highlight the devastating economic impact these new regulations will have nationwide.

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