The Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce is governed by a board of directors and, within this board, an executive committee that offers counsel, financial oversight and decision-making support to our chamber president, Charlotte Keim. She runs the chamber. She manages the staff and speaks on and behalf of our membership. Well, sort of.
With more than 550 dues-paying member businesses, the chamber represents a diverse group of people who are responsible for writing most of the payroll checks that flow through our community each month. What these business managers think, and how their employees feel about things, is important to anyone who advances a cause, promotes a position or holds public office. When we meet as an executive board or in our monthly full board meetings, we are often asked to take a position on an issue active in our community. It might be a levy, an armory, a bypass bridge, commercial development, zoning change, a political candidate, or consolidation of bureaucratic agencies between the city and county. We're asked on to weigh in on county and state issues as well.
When these requests sail across the table, we usually launch into a fact-finding discussion that often ends in a debate. Sometimes it's benign. Other times, it's lively. Beyond supporting the idea of helping our membership earn a profit on their capital investment, our boards don't always agree. With a membership as large as ours, it's a given that unanimity is not only impossible, it's not even expected.
Thus, what the chamber "thinks" about the armory or the bike path or the 821 bypass is not possible to communicate. Sure, we support education and job training. We encourage business retention, growth, expansion, attraction and anything that creates employment. I expect most of us agree with what former Governor James A. Rhodes used to say - profit is not a dirty word in Ohio. But I can't say for sure.
In an age where the free-enterprise system - the economic development engine that has solved every problem that we've ever confronted as a nation - is under assault by our own government, you would think we agree that is true and that the system must be fixed. But I can't say for sure.
When the quality of our schools is the first question relocation experts ask our office, and we sheepishly admit that our voters have overwhelmingly denied the last few school levies placed on the ballot, we again wonder what our members think about this and other bandwagons that keep passing us by.
So, here's something our board has agreed to. We believe you need to know which way the wind is blowing when it comes to how our business community feels about things. Following a pilot program that worked pretty well this year, we're going to start asking our members to weigh in on issues that confront our community. We'll keep it simple. We'll ask the questions, tabulate the responses, distribute a news release and post the results on our website where they'll remain in the archive. You can draw your own conclusions.
The Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce exists for a primary reason: To promote business in and around Marietta. And the work of the chamber, day in and day out, is based on a principle applied to each investment in time, money and effort: Serving our members.
Thus, when we ask 550 business managers a question, we hope they'll respond. And when they do, we'll tell you what they think. I might suggest "we report, you decide," but we won't even agree on that, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
One more thing. Views and opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, its board of directors, staff or membership. We'll see you at mariettachamber.com.
Bill White is vice chairman, Communications and Community Development, Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Offenberger & White, Inc.