Chamber of Commerce meetings make an impact in Montana

Five women stand behind a folding table with educational materials displayed

CCL volunteers from the Flathead Valley, Montana, chapter

Chamber of Commerce meetings make an impact in Montana

By Alex Amonette

I recently had the privilege of meeting with a local Chamber Executive Director, Shane, after nearly five years of trying to schedule a meeting. Thirty minutes before the presentation was slated to begin, I hopped on Zoom and Shane was already waiting there, ready to begin. 

We introduced ourselves, and began chatting between sips of coffee. I soon learned about a trip he took to China with his family. He noted that in Beijing, he saw not a single bird because of all the pollution. And he loves birds. But he wasn’t able to see a single one. 

I noted that I, too, love birds. In fact, I think we are all bird lovers, and we need to flock together to ensure that our streets will always have birds … and thriving businesses with a stable climate. 

As a native Montanan, I have already observed the drastic impacts of climate change on our economy. While our birds may still fly high, our rivers and streams are running low and hot, affecting Montana’s fish and fishery industry. Additionally, our community members dependent on agriculture are seeing hay harvests running low and underweight cattle due to lack of water. 

A recent CNN article detailed how scorching heat is emptying out restaurants and failing small businesses, in a pattern similar to COVID-19. If we are not careful, climate change could seriously damage Montana’s economy more than it already has.

Building political will with local Chambers of Commerce

So, what can we do to protect ourselves and our communities from climate change and its damage to the economy? In Montana, we’ve been building political will by meeting with some of the 80+ Chambers of Commerce in our state. Since 2017, CCL Montana has presented about carbon fee and dividend to the Kalispell, Great Falls, Philipsburg, Big Timber and Billings Chambers of Commerce. 

With help from volunteers and CCL resources like this “Engaging Your Chamber of Commerce” training, we have developed a general outline that we find resonates with our local chambers. Framing our presentations as “Main Street Businesses, Jobs and Climate: Solutions for Our Future,” we typically:

  • Introduce CCL, reviewing our mission, values, and news of our recent lobbying meetings
  • Share how our values intersect with the mission statement of that specific Chamber
  • Outline problem of climate change by highlighting specific climate impacts, especially those affecting local businesses 
  • Share details about Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, explaining why it’s beneficial for local businesses 
  • Discuss other policies relevant to the specific Chamber (i.e., permitting reform, efficiency and electrification, natural forests)
  • Invite questions and engage in post-presentation discussions

This formula has led to good relationships with Chamber members. Angie Winters, co-chair of Flathead Valley CCL, noted that “the Chambers have the pulse of the community, and gaining their insight through their questions and input has been tremendously educational for me.” 

“The post presentation discussions with the Chamber members make the whole effort worthwhile,” agreed Bret Luedke, the chapter’s other co-chair. “We learn from them, and they learn from us.”

Try it with your Chamber

Many Chambers of Commerce are already engaging in valuable climate action, and it is important for us to show our support for their actions.  In January 2021, the national U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed a market-based solution to climate change. Here in Montana, the Billings, Kalispell and Montana Chambers of Commerce were all letter signatories on a coalition letter to Congress urging swift action on permitting reform this summer. Your local Chamber might have already taken some steps, too.

First, research to see what climate actions your local Chamber of Commerce has already taken, and thank them for their valiant efforts to help our environment. Secondly, reach out and try to schedule a meeting with other CCL volunteers, to talk about further efforts they can take.  

The temperatures may be rising on our planet, but it is possible to also rise to the challenge together and help prevent further climate catastrophes. Utilize your Chamber of Commerce – they can be powerful partners in solving climate change. 

Alex Amonette is a CCL volunteer in Montana.