Take a moment right now to put Jan. 25, 2017, on your calendar. That marks a day you can help make history by being part of our region’s annual one-day trek to Madison for the Chippewa Valley Rally. It’s a day where everyday business people like you and me can have a positive impact on our communities’ relationships with state government in areas like transportation, higher education, economic development and more.
With so much of the state’s population — and, therefore, legislative districts — concentrated in the southern portion of Wisconsin, the Chippewa Valley Rally is an opportunity to combat the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency when it comes to state economic policies that impact our area. It’s organized each year by the Chippewa Valley Chamber Alliance, a joint effort of the Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and Eau Claire Chambers of Commerce.
As the legislature convenes this coming January, there will be many new faces in the Capitol as a result of retirements and the fall election. That adds to the value of this unique event bringing the Chippewa Valley’s concerns to every office in the state Capitol.
In fact, the key to the Rally’s effectiveness is the impact of visits to each legislator by groups of 3-4 Chippewa Valley business and community leaders. Each team is made up of a diverse set of citizens, representing local businesses, education, government and other organizations, who visit five legislative offices during the day and present the list of important issues. And everyone gets a matching scarf — perfect for the usual cold winter temperatures — adding to the impact of our presence in the Capitol.
A productive day
The largest share of Rally participants begin the day early, departing Eau Claire on a chartered bus 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 newly-renovated Park Inn across from the Capitol, members get a briefing on this year’s issues and how to present them. Then it’s a quick walk across the street for visits to legislative offices — two each in the morning and three in the afternoon. That’s punctuated by a luncheon back at the hotel, with the governor invited to speak. The Rally concludes back at the Top of the Park with an early-evening reception, which provides an informal opportunity to talk with state decision-makers, including many legislators, their staff members, and other state officials. Then it’s onto the bus for a relaxing ride home, the end to a productive day in Madison.
Success stories, continuing challenges
Issues highlighted at recent editions of the Rally have focused on state policies and programs that have been catalysts of renewed local investment and economic growth. Results include strengthened downtowns in Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and Eau Claire, including the Confluence Project; critically-needed engineering programs at local state universities; and targeted efforts among employers, educational institutions and state government to close the skills gap.
Big challenges remain, however, including ensuring adequate support for education, strengthening talent attraction and retention efforts, and providing long-term funding stability to meet current and future transportation needs.
If you’ve never participated in a Chippewa Valley Rally, I encourage you to join us. Not only is everything included for those who participate, but the registration fee is kept low by the more than 20 local business organizations whose sponsorships provide a significant part of the funding. For your small group visits, you’ll be assigned to a team led by a veteran attendee, and there’s no expectation that you have to personally be an “expert” in the issues.
Finally, there’s one of the most valuable — but underrated — benefits of participating: The opportunity to meet and spend time with others from the Chippewa Valley who are interested in public policies that affect our business environment. I hope you’ll decide to join us this year!