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Have You Effectively Used Your (Almost) Free Consulting Services?

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It is said that when “you see one chamber — you’ve seen one chamber.” It’s also true that every chamber has a personality: a core set of values, capabilities and focal points that guide its mission and program of work.

A core value of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC) is the same one its founder, Anne Sightler Musgrave — the first woman in Prince George’s County to be admitted to the bar association — had: “We help grow businesses and solve problems.”

Throughout its nearly seven decades of existence, the BWCC has been involved in creating lots of firsts in our region: highway tourism centers, one-stop workforce centers, a regional transit system focused on entry-level employees, extensive procurement programs, energy purchasing cooperatives, STEM education programs for math educators and the list goes on.

A recent example is the U.S. Department of Labor’s overtime regulation. Because of the BWCC’s relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it was working on this issue a year before its release, providing written testimony in opposition to the proposal as well as advising the membership of its potential impact, and urging members’ participation as well through written testimony, contact with legislators and other means.

Now that the regulation has come forward, BWCC advises its members — for-profit and nonprofit alike — how to manage the impacts, with special mailings, links to experts in free webinars and assistance in developing free seminars that will help answer questions. Isn’t that what you would expect from your chamber?

Significant Connections

Your chamber also has made significant connections in the local, state and federal government, along with nonprofit, educational and military communities.

Why does that matter? It is interesting to note that often the member company or organization, no matter its size, has not had the time, knowledge or interest to establish connectivity at various levels.

As an example: An international engineering/planning firm had not made connections with local planning agencies, nor with the statewide economic development organization that could potentially open lots of doors and opportunities and make its brand known in the state as well as internationally.

And most small, minority and medium-sized businesses have not made the connections they should, either. Most usually the owners feel that, “It takes all my time to run the business. I don’t have the time to make all these connections.” And that’s where your chamber, the BWCC, shines. Over seven decades it has established relationships with scores of organizations, people and programs, all for the benefit of its members.

Members have benefitted greatly from the instrument it has developed called The MAP, or “Membership Action Plan.” At 17 pages, the document is a series of questions that allows the member to understand and evaluate a range of potential opportunities — most of them free or very low cost. The general consensus of those who have participated in this document has been: “Wow, it’s like drinking from a fire hydrant.”

For example, nonprofit or government agencies might not know about SCSEP, the largest federally funded program for older adults who seek employment and training assistance, as well as civic engagement, although it potentially could help them expand their workforce at little or no cost. Businesses often are surprised to learn they can advise the leadership of a municipal or county government about their business and have a free television advertisement by appearing before a council meeting in their jurisdiction.

Legislative Advocacy

Perhaps the greatest benefit your BWCC provides is being the watchdog of legislative activity. This year, 2,817 pieces of legislation were proposed in the Maryland General Assembly. As a business owner or nonprofit manager, how would you ever have the time to review these bills, determining which ones might impact your business, and advocate for or against such legislation?

The BWCC works in strategic alliance with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and its legislative committee, and in fact serves on that committee, to review legislation that impacts you.

In the most recent session, there were no fewer than 57 bills relating to workplace and employees. One particular bill would have required the following, according to the fiscal notes prepared by the Department of Legislative Services:

“On hiring a new employee and by the first day of work for a new employee, an employer must provide the employee with specified written information relating to the employee’s work schedule.

“At least 21 days prior to the start of each work week, an employer must post a written work schedule of the shifts of all employees at the work site, including those not scheduled to work. An employer must post an updated schedule within 24 hours of any change made to a previously posted work schedule. An employer may not require an employee to work hours not included in an initial work schedule, unless the employee provides written consent…. Prior to 24 hours before a shift is scheduled to begin, but within 21 days of the first scheduled hour of a shift, an employer may reduce, extend, cancel, or change a scheduled shift.

“However, if an employer does so, he or she must pay the employee one hour of predictability pay, which is the employee’s regular rate of pay, for each shift that is changed, with specified exceptions. Predictability pay is in addition to any other wages required to be paid to the employee.”

This is just one example of proposals that could dramatically impact your operations and how you manage your employees. And, by the way, this legislation would not have applied to local government.

The BWCC strives to be a trusted ally and treasured resource for its members. Have you effectively used your “almost” free resources?