Billings Chamber: A Message From the President & CEO

March 1, 2021

by John Brewer, President, Chief Executive Officer, Billings Chamber of Commerce

Hello! You found us, and we are grateful for the opportunity to connect with you. Although the Billings Chamber of Commerce has been here since 1891, we are speaking to many of you for the first time thanks to a partnership with Simply Local. Each month the Chamber will come to you through these pages to discuss business, our community, and initiatives we believe will make Billings, its 8,200 businesses, and the workers who call this place home more successful. 

Let me tell you a little about us, who we are (and aren't), and what we are working on. First, the Chamber is not part of the government. We are an independent non-profit organization led by business members. These 1,100 members who employ 45,000 people invest in the Chamber through dues and sponsorships. Our Chamber received the highest award available from the United States Chamber of Commerce: 5-Star Accreditation. Less than 1% of the 7,000 chambers in the U.S. have this designation.  

Our vision, goals, and daily action to improve the future of business in Billings are developed by our members and a 19-person board of directors representing a wide swath of business—from large organizations to small locally owned shops. Our Board Chair is Mike Nelson, owner of the “fabulous Northern Hotel in beautiful downtown Billings,” as he likes to say.  

Our Chamber is a champion of our community; the convener of leaders and influencers, and the catalyst for business growth. We bring people together who want to spark change and create even more reasons to celebrate our community.  

At the core of what we do is support local businesses, small and large. This past year we assisted businesses in reimagining efficient, inspired ways to do business. For some businesses, this period has been a journey of reinvention and growth. For others, it’s been riddled with emotional and financial hardship. More than ever, people appreciate the important role small businesses play in our economy and community.  

This past year has been a challenge for tourism-based businesses. The Chamber leads region-wide efforts to grow visitation through the management of Visit Billings and Visit Southeast Montana. To date, hotel stays are down about 33%. Typically, travelers to our county spend $500 million here annually. These guests drive new revenue and help employ our residents, so the losses ripple throughout Billings. 

We focus on issues that members identified as top concerns we can help solve. Growing and retaining workforce is top of the list, so we deliver programs such as Leadership Billings and networks for women and young professionals. We are advocates for improving public safety, parks and trails, and the overall quality of life. Additionally, the Billings Chamber is committed to learning about diversity and inclusion, evolving our own policies, and impacting significant change for Billings.  

Ultimately, our vision is to advance Billings as the dynamic regional center. If you have thoughts on our community initiatives or want more information, please reach out to me:  

Cheers to our new partnership and our INSPIRED! Future. 

2020 and Beyond Priorities  

The Billings Chamber is working toward a post-pandemic community where businesses thrive; its resident-workforce is healthy, happy, and successful; and a place where families and individuals want to relocate. The priorities below focus on addressing issues that grow our economy and workforce and create greater quality of life for all. Many across the country may be looking to relocate to communities that are healthy, safe, accepting, and less crowded destinations. Being under the Big Sky can be a motivating factor, but it's not enough. These priorities require immediacy, investment, and allocation of significant Chamber resources.  

COVID-19: Improving the Health of Business—The Chamber exists to support local businesses. How we do that is evolving rapidly. The world has changed, and the Chamber will continue to be in front of change and reactive to unforeseen situations. Economic recovery may be a series of surges and declines that will follow the public health trend line. The health of the 8,200 businesses in Billings requires support in the form of financial resources, marketing, connectivity, and clear, trustworthy, and timely communication.  

Equality of Opportunity—“Open and Safe” is only a start to recovery. To become nationally competitive for talent and entrepreneurship, Billings must be “Open for All.” In a recent membership poll, 72% of respondents stated Billings must do more to allow people of color, differing religions, races, and LGBTQ+ populations to feel welcome and safe. The path forward requires our community to do better by intentionally identifying this as a priority, seeking to listen, learn and improve, and embracing diversity and inclusion in all areas of work.  

A Safer Billings—Public safety in a community (real and perceived) is an important determining factor of resident quality of life and relocation. It directly impacts consumer motivation in wanting to frequent business areas of high risk. There are many contributing factors and potential solutions to crime and safety, including addressing mental health and addiction, law enforcement, incarceration, and environmental design. In addition, public safety funding remains an area of concern due to racial tensions and officer-involved shootings across the country.   

Policy and People Matter— In January 2021, the people we elect to set policy will meet in Helena to act on business, community, and societal issues. Selecting business-friendly candidates to serve as elected leaders is the first step to developing business-friendly policies. Our comprehensive public policy agenda will address impacts to business post-COVID-19, taxation, public safety, needed community placemaking legislation, public-private partnerships, and more.  

Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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