More Than Networking: Chamber’s Clout Targets ‘Biz-Friendly, Community-Friendly’ Policies

If policy makers want to know what 1,200 businesses that represent roughly 30,000 employees think about an issue, they put a call into the corner office on the second floor of the Lansdowne Town Center.

Business chambers nationwide are as much lobbying groups as they are networking organizations. But the Loudoun Chamber’s efforts to weigh in on important decisions locally, at the state level, and even with federal government, is about more than championing business-friendly policies. Loudoun Chamber President and CEO Tony Howard and its new board Chairman Mitch Sproul see it as a chance to be a voice for the betterment of the broader community.

“What I appreciate most is the county leaders see us as a partner and not an adversary,” Howard said. “County leaders often seek us out before we actually go to them.”

The Chamber has offered its 2 cents ahead of votes by the county Board of Supervisors, including decisions on bolstering the nighttime economy, relaxing the sign ordinance, allowing more mixed-use developments along Rt. 28, and the biggie, approving Metro.

“Our argument then was Loudoun would be left far, far behind if we’re not involved in the Metro project,” Howard said. “I used to say that Metro will be a game changer for Loudoun County, and it turns out I underestimated. It’s almost the only game in town.”

Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Bouna (R-Ashburn) agreed that he and his colleagues see the Chamber as an important community stakeholder.

The Chamber has also voiced its members’ stances on decisions made in Richmond and on Capitol Hill, including sequestration and government shutdowns. One lobbying effort that saved Northern Virginia jurisdictions from forgoing millions in education funds played out this month eight years ago. On Gov. Tim Kaine’s way out of office in 2009, he suggested freezing the adjustment to the school-funding formula, Local Composite Index. That would have cost public schools in fast-growing Loudoun County about $34 million. But that changed when the Loudoun Chamber, joined by several other Northern Virginia groups, “made a lot of noise,” as Howard put it. After he heard from then-Chamber board chairman Buona, Gov. Bob McDonnell opposed that freeze as one of his first decisions in office.

“That is not a small amount of money, so we let them know where we stood,” Howard said. “They looked at the politics of it and changed their mind.”

Sproul said the Chamber has a voice that’s powerful because of the sheer number of people it represents, but it’s also a respected voice.

“There’s a lot of good reasons to join the Chamber, but I think the biggest reason is because of our voice,” Sproul said. That “voice,” he added, advocates for policies that are business friendly and community friendly.

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