The Columbus Chamber has reaffirmed its commitment to public policy and cultivating local relationships in order to stay on top of legislative issues affecting its members. In fact, that commitment lead the Chamber to hire Kristen Easterday earlier this year as director of local government relations.
Herewith, Easterday, an Ohio University graduate and former executive director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Office of Farmland Preservation, shares the questions she is asked most about her role at the Chamber− and her answers, of course.
1. What do you do?
I am a voice for business in government.
As a member of the Columbus Chamber’s advocacy team, my role is specifically dedicated to advocating for businesses at the local level of government, including county, township, city, and school district. The Columbus Chamber is a regional chamber, supporting approximately 2,000 businesses in Franklin, the surrounding counties, and beyond. So my territory is fairly large.
I joined the Chamber in January, right before we launched the “new” Columbus Chamber. Our sole purpose is to deliver business solutions and help businesses thrive.
2. What does the Columbus Chamber advocate for?
Along with my three other government relations team members at the Columbus Chamber, I advocate on behalf of our businesses’ best interest. We strive to help make the Columbus region an even better place to do business—a fair and business-friendly environment for companies from startups to 100-year-old family-owned businesses, and from solopreneurial businesses to those with thousands of employees. We also encourage our business members and their employees to advocate those public policy positions that improve our region’s business environment. We are guided by our Public Policy Agenda, the Columbus Chamber Board of Directors, and the Chamber’s Government Affairs Steering Committee.
3. Why is advocacy important to an entrepreneur or small business?
There are some misperceptions that the Chamber is only for big business. But the majority of our members are small businesses.
At the Columbus Chamber, we keep our fingers on the pulse of business. I continually meet with individual businesses, local chambers, and associations to gain a better understanding of the issues that are important to doing business in the region. As those issues are brought to my attention, we bring those issues onto our agenda.
Some of the issues I am working on now include encouraging local governments to share services, supporting the permanent establishment of commercial dockets in Ohio and Franklin County, streamlining the permitting and zoning process in partnership with the city of Columbus, updating the Stormwater Drainage Manual in Columbus, building consensus around municipal tax uniformity, and supporting comprehensive scrap metal legislation, just to name a few.
The Columbus Chamber wants to be ahead of these and other issues before they cost your business money or time. We are working proactively with elected officials to combat business-related issues, so the Central Ohio region continues to strengthen its policies and actions to grow into being the best business environment in the nation.
4. What have been the biggest challenges thus far?
The biggest challenge for me thus far has been establishing myself as the go-to person to our businesses as they attempt to navigate local government. Never before has the Columbus Chamber had a dedicated staff person to assist local businesses specifically with local government. I continue to encourage businesses to reach out to me directly when they engage in any issue relating to their county, township, city, or school district that is affecting them.
For instance, recently there have been changes made to make it easier for local breweries and distilleries to do business and access permits in Ohio. Unfortunately, there is still discrepancy between the breweries, distilleries, and wineries in the cost of permitting and rules in selling the product. We have engaged in conversation with many industry leaders and are working to create a dialogue with these businesses and state government.
5. What’s the best thing about your job?
I get to wake up every day thinking about how I can make a positive impact on our economy. Economic prosperity is not a partisan issue and, therefore, I have the pleasure of working with both political parties and all elected officials and government employees to encourage business growth to help create and retain jobs.
6. Do you have any tips for small businesses and entrepreneurs?
One of the best practices is to stay informed, and be engaged with your local elected officials and their key staff members. Tell them about your business, invite them to your office, and have them meet your team and tour your workspace. Elected officials want to know what kind of impact their policy decisions make on their local area. And remember that the Columbus Chamber is here to serve as your advocate. If you interact with local government, contact me and put the Columbus Chamber to work for your business. I can be reached at 614-225-6903 or [email protected].