The free enterprise system is essential to a robust economy that provides opportunities to thrive for individuals, families, businesses and the community. The Chamber will view policies through the lens of how they impact such things as economic freedom, competition, profit, and economic opportunity. The Chamber will assert and defend the benefits of free enterprise in the public square to counter misguided biases against business that sometimes exist among policy makers or segments of the public.
Stewardship of public resources
Responsive government exists to provide services that are essential and benefit the common good. Taxes are a significant part of the budget of any business or citizen. It is important for all levels of government to be cost-effective and accountable in the use of public resources and tax revenues. Public officials should be held to high ethical standards and expected to make decisions in the best interests of the public.
- Consider tax reform initiatives that would eliminate or significantly decrease the state’s income tax burden without jeopardizing overall state revenues and essential services. This would enhance the state’s competitiveness and potentially provide an opportunity to address other tax fairness issues.
- Address the squeeze on local governments and outdated funding formulas: Despite the overall improved nature of the tax burden carried by Wisconsin residents, local governments in particular face financial challenges based upon revenue and levy limits, as well as long-outdated municipal shared revenue and school funding formulas. This has led to referendums disproportionally increasing property taxes, as well as the imposition of wheel taxes, because they are the only tools available to them. It is time to review the state’s promises and restrictions on these units of government, and consider the appropriate balance among property, sales and income taxes.
Public policy issues should be addressed at the level that is most appropriate to their scope and best management. While some issues have policy implications at all levels of government, many do not and should be addressed only by the level of government most responsible for carrying them out.
- Given that local businesses draw customers and employees from across a wide geographic area, it is important to have consistency across local boundaries for some mandates to avoid complexity and extra costs. Business regulations that are best set at the state rather than local level include smoking regulation, employment laws, use of particular materials such as plastics, etc.
Government regulation is appropriate when it provides necessary standards to ensure public safety, professional competence, and fairness. It is important to keep regulations up to date based upon changes in technology and best practices. Regulations should not be burdensome in ways that inhibit responsible activities, or serve to block appropriate economic competition.
- Professional standards regulations should be harmonized with other states to make it easier for competent professionals to move from one state to another for employment opportunities.
- The Department of Safety and Professional Services must take steps to eliminate the backlog in occupational licensing. Professionals in many occupations have reported significant backlogs in receiving credentials from DSPS, hampering their ability to work and earn a living. It's important for DSPS to take steps to improve the management of these functions to be responsive to the needs of these professions.
- The state should have a system to periodically review the need, value and standards for each profession subject to occupational licensing.
Businesses and organizations in our community provide valuable employment opportunities for individuals to earn income, provide meaningful and productive labor, and build a strong local economy. Employers are currently experiencing significant labor shortages as a result of demographics and other factors. Difficulties in filling positions at all levels and in multiple industries threaten to dampen opportunities for economic growth. The availability and affordability of childcare has become an increasingly acute issue for employers, families and childcare providers. This has inhibited the ability of families to take full advantage of employment opportunities and for employers to have full access to the potential talent pool. The Chamber supports meaningful public policy solutions to address specific workforce challenges, including:
- Talent attraction and retention: It's essential for the state to help address the workforce shortage through initiatives to attract and retain talent - including marketing the positive attributes of the state and its regions to attract new talent, encouraging former residents and students to return, highlighting opportunities for transitioning veterans, and keeping Wisconsin graduates in the state.
- Childcare availability and affordability for working parents: There is an urgent need for innovation on the part of the state to address the funding, business model, and regulatory oversight of early childhood care and education in ways that will effectively deal with availability, affordability and accountability for quality and safety. This, by necessity, must address the business model for childcare providers, especially in their ability to attract and retain motivated, high quality staff.
- Reforms to the unemployment compensation system.
- Support mechanisms for educational skills attainment to fulfill workforce needs.
Housing supply and affordability
The local supply of available and affordable housing impacts our ability to meet the needs of a growing population, as well as affordability for all individuals and families. The Chippewa Valley Housing Task Force found that there is a shortage of housing in our community at all price and income levels. It is important for public policy to encourage increasing the supply of housing and removing barriers to housing development.
- The Chamber will encourage local jurisdictions to follow through on comprehensive planning activities that foresee future housing development. We will support approval of responsible development proposals that meet needs to increase housing supply, including appropriate annexation, zoning, site plan, and other approvals. Although it is often natural for neighbors to resist change, it is important to consider the overall community welfare and give it priority while respecting public input.
- Review, and modify as needed, regulations, policies, and building codes to ensure that they are up to date and do not unnecessarily hamper construction activities or increase costs.
- Provide adequate resources to ensure inspections are carried out in a consistent and timely manner.
- Update zoning codes and policies to eliminate outdated and arbitrary standards in order to encourage infill development, creation of missing middle housing types, compact growth, efficiency of public resources, and the ability to build the types of housing demanded by the marketplace.
- Coordinate housing and transportation policies to maximize the impact of public benefits and resources.
- We support innovative efforts on the state level to increase supply and affordability, including things like a sales tax exemption for workforce housing developments, tax credits for workforce housing creation, a workforce housing rehabilitation loan program, a local housing investment fund program, and reviewing regulations, policies and building codes to ensure that they are up to date and do not unnecessarily hamper construction activities or increase costs.
Our region’s public and private education systems are critical assets which provide a strong return on investment for the community and for our economy. A world-class educational system is essential for businesses to remain competitive in a global economy. The Chamber believes that adequate funding, measurement of education outcomes, financial accountability, encouragement of innovation, and rewards for excellence are all important components of any effort to improve quality education from kindergarten to college. The Chamber supports adequate state funding for the UW System and Technical College System, as well as sound local management of K-12 school systems to deliver high academic achievement along with responsible financial management.
- Provide completion funding for the UWEC Science & Health Sciences Building: With Phase I enumerated in the 2019-21 State Budget, design has moved forward and it is time to commit completion funding so that a single replacement building can be constructed to replace outdated Phillips Science Hall. Including a key partnership with Mayo Clinic, the project meets 21st century STEM research and education needs, providing regional economic benefits far beyond the borders of the campus.
- UW Campus flexibility: Give the UW System and local campuses the flexibility and autonomy they need to deploy and manage resources, create effective regional consortiums, make curriculum decisions to address region-specific needs, and maintain excellence in their recognized areas of specialization. Specifically provide the UW System with management flexibility in operations and procurement.
- Support and continue to expand Apprenticeship and Youth Apprenticeship programs and funding.
- Promote continued enhancement to degree and credit transfer between postsecondary institutions for better career pathways and transferability between higher education systems to provide seamless and affordable education.
- The Chamber strongly encourages the Board of Education for the Eau Claire Area School District to address its $75 million of unfunded liabilities related to Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce affirms the inherent dignity and value of every person and strives to maintain a climate in the community for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding. The Chamber’s Board of Directors adopted its Principles of Community Around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2020. These principles also guide our engagement in public policy.
The Chamber supports the efforts of local, regional, and state economic development organizations to promote the community, help existing businesses grow and expand, and ensure the availability of the resources needed for business growth.
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) has been a critical tool for economic growth that has been used in a successful and responsible manner by local governments in the Chippewa Valley. The Chamber supports its continued availability and careful use for economic development purposes.
The Eau Claire area is emerging as a growing tourism destination, with increasing room tax revenues and visitor spending being driven by assets like the Pablo Center and other performance venues, seasonal festivals, outdoor activities, sports tournaments, the arts, and music. Tourism also provides a unique opportunity to draw people to the community as visitors who may become residents.
- The Chamber supports the work of Visit Eau Claire and other area destination marketing organizations and continuing state statutory mandates for the use of room tax revenues to support tourism promotion.
Transportation and infrastructure
Access to high speed internet and a strong, balanced transportation system are critical to a vibrant economy, quality of life, and access to employment and economic opportunity.
- Support investment in broadband expansion that uses proven technologies to significantly expand public access.
- With a growing economy and population, it is important to ensure the specific transportation needs of the Chippewa Valley are addressed through state planning activities and resource allocation to provide a robust, balanced transportation system. This is critical to attract and retain talent, as well as to provide for the effective movement of goods and people. This includes:
- Adequate funding of local streets and roads.
- Good repair and adequate capacity on I-94 and its feeder highways.
- Maintaining essential rail freight services and availability of intermodal freight transportation.
- Investment for expanded passenger rail service in Wisconsin, including the Chippewa Valley.
- Strengthening local transit services, especially for access to employment, as well as coordinating housing and transportation policies to maximize the impact of public benefits and resources.
- Maintaining commercial air travel service and connections from the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.
Specific current policy priorities in this area include:
- Prioritize continued expansion of broadband access to unserved and under-served areas. Availability of broadband has become as essential in today’s economy as electricity and telephone service. Connecting rural Wisconsin towns, villages, and communities with reliable broadband requires a strategic and thoughtful approach. As funding is deployed, it should prioritize appropriate data collection, mapping, and sufficient speeds. Cooperatives, telephone companies, and middle-mile backbone networks all play a critical role in broadband delivery.
- Build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure to include major highway corridors and rural areas. With significant federal funding for EV stations on the way, the preparation, planning, and investments in building out Wisconsin’s charging station network must include small and medium-sized communities. Economic development partners like local electric utilities will play an important role in fulfilling the needs of the traveling public. Legislative action is appropriate to incentivize the production and deployment of charging infrastructure. It’s important for all parties to work together to solve the issues that held up legislation in the last session, balancing the need to encourage private enterprise with the need to increase access.
- Expand passenger rail service to the Chippewa Valley and other major state cities. We support the expansion of passenger rail service in high-potential Wisconsin corridors as a needed and worthwhile investment for the economic future of our state. The Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha train service has been one of the most successful services in the country, and similar benefits should be provided to other major state economic centers. Frequent service to more cities will help attract and retain business and the talent critical to its success; provide a convenient, economical, and environmentally-friendly alternative to driving; accelerate economic growth opportunities; improve quality of life; increase tourism; and add resiliency to our transportation system.
The rising cost of health care is a significant factor in the ability of businesses to compete in the world marketplace and attract the best workforce. Cost containment efforts should be focused on engaging consumers in health care purchasing decisions, improving quality, increasing benefit flexibility and choices, minimizing cost shifting, reforming medical malpractice liability, and improved information technology.
Energy and the environment
Economic growth and environmental progress go hand in hand. Responsible stewardship of our resources can both grow our economy and preserve the planet. Nationally, energy independence is of critical strategic and economic importance for our country.
- The Chamber supports the efforts of our utilities to carefully transition to cleaner energy sources while maintaining cost-effectiveness and full availability of energy to businesses and homes.