The Top of Virginia Regional Chamber exists for area businesses, and sometimes that means taking a stance on public policy issues. The Chamber has a Public Policy Committee and holds multiple annual events designed to build relationships with government representatives.
The I-81 Coalition
Interstate 81 is the lifeblood of the Shenandoah Valley, allowing efficient transportation of people and goods from Tennessee to the New York border, running right through the region. Unfortunately, the heavily-used transportation corridor also has many problems including safety issues. The Chamber has joined with several other chambers that have a vested interest in seeing improvements to I-81 to form the I-81 Corridor Coalition.
There are critical reasons the chambers have come together to address this concern, according to Richard Kennedy, chief executive officer, Top of Virginia Regional Chamber. For example, hundreds, possibly even thousands, of businesses are located along I-81, and their employees use it as part of their daily commutes.
Additionally, businesses come to the Shenandoah Valley in part because of the transportation. If the problems with I-81 in Virginia are not addressed, transportation will suffer and business will be lost.
“We [the Coalition] are working closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation to do an awareness campaign. It will cost money to do the repairs, but look at the potential for loss of life,” Kennedy said.
By approaching the problem in a collaborative way, and working with other chambers and the Virginia Department of Transportation, Kennedy says he believes they have a better chance of bringing about change.
Public Policy Committee Initiatives
The vast majority of issues that the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber addresses are local issues. For example, last year, the city of Winchester sought to make changes to the local sign ordinances. The changes would have impacted many members of the Chamber, so the Public Policy Committee took up the issue.
“The Public Policy [Committee] meets monthly and will discuss items of local importance. If there is strong enough consideration that it should be further discussed and debated we shall do so. At the end of the subject’s discussion we may decide to send it on to the chamber board for consideration. We may submit a favorable, unfavorable or neutral position,” said Todd Thompson, committee chair.
In the case of the sign ordinance changes, the committee deemed the topic important enough to go to the Chamber board, and the Chamber officially took a public position on the subject. They then worked with the city to organize open forums and were able to have some input before the changes were ratified.
One of the many ways the Chamber serves the region is by holding events designed to build relationships with people who are holding office. The Chamber hosts pre- and post-legislative session breakfasts with state legislators delegates and the senator who represents the area. At each breakfast, the representatives politicians discuss either the upcoming or just-completed session, and attendees may ask questions.
Another important event is the Hob Nob in the Valley, which offers candidates a forum to campaign, network with local business leaders and decision makers, address the audience and “hob nob” with their constituents and voters. Candidates running for office come to a forum where they are introduced, given time for a presentation and have a few minutes to discuss their platforms. Afterward, the candidates walk around and “hobnob” with attendees. The Chamber provides food and music, and they do a straw poll. Attendees have an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates, and place their vote in the straw poll.
Such events are usually friendly, open and give voters an opportunity to learn about candidates running for office. They strengthen the sense of community, as well and limit some of the divisiveness that has become so ubiquitous pervasive in politics today. Kennedy describes the events as “non-riotous civil” and says that building relationships with government representatives at every level, from the city council to U.S. Congress, is beneficial for residents.