Dubuque chamber enhances advocacy efforts, brings more business leaders to the table

Thanks to an expanded group of contributors and a sharpened focus, the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce has recently beefed up its advocacy efforts.

The organization’s advocacy work has been a point of emphasis over the past two years, according to President and CEO Molly Grover.

“We have been focused on enhancing our advocacy efforts and making our (Business Advocacy Committee) stronger,” she said. “We want to be the voice for the business community and our members.”

A key part of its overall mission, the chamber has long worked with local, state and federal lawmakers to advance legislation that enhances the business climate and supports economic growth.

The focus of these efforts can sometimes center on a specific concern, like the recent threat to strip Dubuque of its metropolitan status. In other cases, the chamber advocates for broader issues such as the federal push to fund infrastructure improvements.

The Chamber’s Business Advocacy Committee, a group of local economic leaders that guides advocacy work, now boasts 32 members — more than twice its previous size.

But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

The committee now includes local business leaders from a variety of economic sectors, including manufacturing, hospitality, finance, healthcare, retail and construction.

“We wanted to have more people at the table and took a deep dive into how to do that,” Grover said. “The goal was to make sure members were represented in all the various sectors.”

Tara Duggan, who serves as president and owner of McDermott Excavating, is among the local business leaders serving on the committee.

Even with more than 30 members, there is plenty of opportunity for each to make his or her voice heard, Duggan said.

“Everyone contributes in their own way,” she said. “We touch on a variety of topics. With issues related to construction and development, that is when I step up. But there are topics that have affected different industries, where other council members will step up.”

Chad Wolbers serves as president and CEO at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital and also plays a critical role on the Business Advocacy Committee. He’s noticed seismic changes in the way the chamber takes on advocacy issues.

“There is a level of effort and structure that we haven’t had before,” he said. “Our legislative agenda is more detailed, it’s more robust and it is definitely more targeted. I think it will really make a difference.”

The effort to reshape advocacy has been shaped in part by the arrival of a new chamber employee. Ryan Sempf, who was hired in October 2020, serves as the organization’s vice president of government and external affairs and has guided the recent overhaul.

Moving forward, Wolbers believes there is an abundance of key issues for the council to track, including persistent worker shortages and ongoing concerns about access to child care.

“It’s our job to represent the business community and to form a bridge with all of our legislators — with the city, the county, the state and nationally,” Wolbers said.