on September 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Upstate Chamber Coalition includes Walhalla, Westminster, Easley

The eight-county Upstate Chamber Coalition, which includes the Clemson and Anderson areas, announced Monday that Walhalla, Westminster and Easley will join the legislative watchdog group that represents more than 8,000 small businesses and 280,000 employees.

John DeWorken, lobbyist and vice-president of public policy, said the coalition examines proposed legislation — including affordable health care, workers compensation, tort reform, tax reform and government restructuring — impacting businesses of 50 employees or less.

“Ninety percent of our memberships, 9 of 10 businesses, are small businesses,” DeWorken said. “What is important to small businesses in Pickens and Oconee counties is 90 percent of the time going to be important to small businesses in Laurens and Cherokee counties.”

One area DeWorken said his group is lobbying political leaders — both at the federal and state level — is tort reform. The coalition said the issue, whose recommendations include penalties for frivolous lawsuits and caps on punitive damages, must be addressed because of the crippling financial effect it has on small business.

“It takes hundreds of thousands of man hours and countless dollars to defend small business,” he said.

Sunnie Harmon, lobbyist and manager of government relations, said the group has a process they go through in prioritizing issues of concern. That way, Harmon said there is no “knee jerk reaction.”

“We send out an electronic legislative survey to the membership of each of the chambers and it’s very important for our legislative agenda to be membership driven,” Harmon said. “When we receive the survey results, we weigh and tabulate them and usually have 10-15 issues that 99.9 percent are the same as other cities in the coalition, even though they may be ranked differently in priority.”

Harmon said the coalition then brings together groups, including board members and legislative representatives, to “pick apart each of the issues.”

“They determine what is important to business, how the chamber will support it and then present it to the Upstate Chamber Coalition and the individual chambers have to approve,” she said.

DeWorken said that while tourism drives the economy of Charleston, it is business that serves as the economic engine for the Upstate. Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce President Chris Hardy, whose organization is among the coalition members, said having one watchdog group makes it easier for small businesses to present their message to legislators.

“These voices can be heard throughout the entire state,” Hardy said.

DeWorken agrees.

“Over 90 percent of businesses don’t have the financial wherewithal to have someone representing them,” DeWorken said, adding, “That’s where we come in.”