How can a warm winter scarf help improve the Chippewa Valley’s visibility among policy makers in Madison? When it’s worn by each of dozens of business and community leaders visiting the State Capitol together on a single day in January. The event? The 22nd annual Chippewa Valley Rally, which this year is Wednesday, Jan. 27.

With so much of Wisconsin’s population — and the highest proportion of elected legislators — concentrated in the Milwaukee, Madison and Fox Cities areas, the Chippewa Valley Rally is an opportunity to combat any “out of sight, out of mind” tendency when it comes to state policies that impact issues important to the Chippewa Valley. That’s solved in part by having teams of scarf-clad Rally participants fan out to legislative offices throughout the Capitol, providing faces of real citizens who are concerned about the topics they present.

The heart of the Rally’s effectiveness is the impact of those visits. Each team is made up of a three or four people from local businesses, education, government and other organizations, who visit five legislative offices during the day. They present a list of locally-important economic issues, focusing on relevance to the area’s relationship with state government.

Team members range from Rally veterans to those who are participating for the first time. When you’re part of one of these groups, there’s no expectation that you have to personally be an “expert” in the issues, and each team is led by an experienced Rally participant.

This year’s Rally follows a very consequential 2015 visit, which successfully sought state funding for the Confluence Project, and advocated for additional engineering degrees at local UW campuses that were ultimately approved. The 2016 teams will appropriately express “thanks” for those successes, but will also focus on unfinished business, like the need for a long-term solution for funding the state’s vital transportation system, asserting the critical economic value of our local educational institutions, and addressing the state’s role in meeting workforce challenges.

Success stories from issues presented at the previous 21 Chippewa Valley Rallies include local highway improvements, economic incentives that have brought significant regional job increases, critical capital projects for local educational institutions, and more.

But the Chippewa Valley Rally is not just about the nuts and bolts of state policy. It’s an invaluable tool for building key relationships between our area business leaders and policy makers on the state level.

In addition to interacting at scheduled legislative office visits, Rally participants, lawmakers, cabinet officials and key staff also take part in the Rally’s luncheon, attend break-out sessions with key cabinet officials, and meet informally at the evening reception. Plus, an underrated benefit of the rally is the networking that naturally occurs among those from the Chippewa Valley attending the event together.

The Rally is organized by the Chippewa Valley Chamber Alliance, a joint effort of the Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire and Menomonie Chambers of Commerce. Everything is taken care of: Most attendees begin the day early, boarding a chartered bus in Eau Claire at 6:30 a.m. Others take advantage of the day by combining the trip with other business they may have in Madison and travel on their own.

Upon arrival at the Rally’s headquarters, the Madison Concourse Hotel near the State Capitol, members get a briefing on the current status of this year’s issues and how to present them. Then it’s a short walk (in warm scarves!) to the Capitol for visits to legislative offices. That’s punctuated by the luncheon back at the hotel, with an address by Gov. Scott Walker. Afterwards, it’s back to the Capitol for more meetings until the closing reception at the Concourse. Then it’s onto the bus for a relaxing ride home, the end to a productive day in Madison.

If you’ve never participated in a Chippewa Valley Rally, I encourage you to join us. For more information, contact me at rogers@eauclairechamber.org or 715-858-0616.

Scott Rogers is governmental affairs and workforce director for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 715-858-0616, or at rogers@eauclairechamber.org

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