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Opinion: Advocacy tops priorities amid pandemic

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As we were heading into 2020 and I was preparing for my year as chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented challenges certainly weren’t what any of us expected. And yet here we are, navigating these murky waters.

But uncertainty breeds innovation, and I have seen innovation like never before – from our businesses and local nonprofits, our educators, health care providers and elected leaders.

Innovation has been just as crucial for the chamber. Almost in an instant, the needs of business fundamentally changed and employers required guidance on myriad new challenges from rules and regulations, to access to emergency funding and assistance with workplace safety. So we at the chamber pivoted.

Over the last three months, we have shared business feedback with policymakers to help shape our community’s reopening. We have provided numerous educational opportunities for businesses ranging from guidance on federal loans to unemployment insurance to employer liability and more. We have hosted elected officials and government leaders for discussions and business interaction on fast-moving policy. We have engaged with City Council on recent bills up for consideration, including the IDEA Commons expansion, the facilitation of Costco in Springfield, the allocation of CARES Act funds for small business and easing business restrictions during the pandemic. And our monthly Good Morning, Springfield! event has gone virtual, featuring interviews with Sen. Roy Blunt and Gov. Mike Parson as well as Mayor Ken McClure’s State of the City presentation.

As we worked to help our members and the business community meet urgent and unforeseen needs, we also worked with lawmakers and partners to ensure business priorities passed at the state legislature. Despite a condensed legislative session, there are some significant wins to celebrate.

These include passage of enabling legislation provisions for tourism and early childhood. Should the governor sign these into law, Springfield voters could have the chance to consider local funding options to improve our community. Funding for tourism could be directed to amenities like a convention center or tournament grade sports complex, while funding for early childhood could allow more children in Springfield and Greene County to have access to quality pre-K education. These priorities have become even more even critical as our community looks ahead to economic recovery. As I think about our future, investing in these assets are significant ways we can work to create a more vibrant and thriving community in the future.

Legislation was also passed that could grant license reciprocity to professionals and military spouses moving to Missouri. This allows people to more quickly enter our workforce and makes Missouri more attractive to those in licensed occupations. We will need these competitive workforce advantages as we recruit talent.

Lawmakers also prioritized tort reform that will have an impact on the business climate for the entire state, and economic development legislation that will allow communities to invest in infrastructure tied to new jobs.

There is, of course, more work to be done. One of the biggest challenges facing the state is the budget. Limited state dollars will have an impact on elementary and secondary education, workforce and economic development, the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities, infrastructure, broadband, entrepreneurship and more. One way to help address that loss would have been through the enactment of a mechanism to collect online sales tax. The chamber advocated for passage of an internet sales tax to level the playing field for Missouri businesses and we were disappointed this did not make it across the finish line.

But overall, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the chamber’s ability to work with lawmakers to create a climate that will hopefully enable us to recover from this pandemic quickly. And I’m optimistic. If working in Springfield has taught me anything, it’s that we can work together to create innovative solutions to any challenge. We will emerge stronger than before.

Robin Robeson is the chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors and executive vice president and chief operating officer at Guaranty Bank. She can be reached at rrobeson@gbankmo.com.

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