by Gigi Wood & Bekah Porter

CORRIDOR – Sometimes less is more.

After traveling together for the past few years, the chambers of commerce from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City will be taking separate lobbying trips to Washington D.C. in 2011. Last year, the trip was not made because of a severe snowstorm.

Many leaders in the Corridor, as well as noted visitors to the area, have touted working together as a region as the way Eastern Iowa can compete most effectively for more businesses and residents. But Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce said the two groups can travel separately yet continue to promote regionalism.

“We have different interests this year,” she said. “You can still have strong collaboration in recognizing what you can do better independently. To some people, success is met by doing everything together, and I would suggest that it’s important to know when it’s effective to work together and apart. There may be a point where we say, ‘We’re not well-realigned again and we can bring this group back together,’ because there is merit in building those relationships throughout the Corridor.”

The Iowa City chamber trip will be Feb. 7-9. The Cedar Rapids chamber trip will be May 23-25.

Iowa City chamber representatives will travel with leaders from Coralville, Iowa City and North Liberty. Those leaders will likely be asking for funding support for local infrastructure projects, transportation and other basic services, she said.

“One thing I find remarkable is our city leaders’ ability to prioritize,” Ms. Quellhorst said. “They look at the projects as a south corridor and base priorities on that instead of on individual municipalities.”

The Iowa City chamber is not taking a lobbying agenda, but rather a list of priorities it plans to describe to federal legislators and their staffs while in Washington. Chamber representatives will be speaking with legislators about the importance of funding STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) initiatives.

“It’s about strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels from kindergarten through post-graduate schooling and we want to encourage elected officials to give it attention and to understand the critical role it plays in our competitiveness,” she said. “STEM is important to a wide variety of our constituents.”

The chamber also plans to showcase the local UNESCO City of Literature efforts to lawmakers. The group will also receive a White House briefing, visit the Library of Congress and will dine with Rep. Dave Loebsack during the visit.

“We don’t take federal issues on the trip, we request appropriations,” she said. “The feedback we got back from (Congressional) staff was we’re not big enough to have an impact on big federal issues.”

Shannon Meyer, president and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, said Ms. Quellhorst was “right on” in describing the two organization’s varying priorities.

“We here are still significantly focused on flood recovery and getting additional dollars to this community that will help with local flood needs,” she said.

Additionally, she said the Cedar Rapids chamber would like to travel to Washington D.C. on a different calendar date.

She said the organization will be traveling to attend the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Small Business Summit. During this three-day event, chamber members and business owners can network, meet with their elected officials to advocate for pro-growth policies and hear from Washington insiders and business experts on policies that are impacting American businesses, according to the event’s web site.

“We had great success (attending that event this past year),” Ms. Meyer said. “So, what we’ve decided to do is continue to build upon (that experience) and add more attendees to that.”

She said it makes more sense for the Cedar Rapids chamber to send a large group to lobby at the same time as the summit, rather than taking separate trips. Additionally, she said this decision was one supported by the chamber’s members.

“There was an interest from our members to enhance (the experience surrounding the summit),” she said. “The delegation that went (representing the entire Corridor) was mostly made up of elected officials, and that is good, and there needs to be a trip that is focused on appropriations from that perspective. But in addition to that, we want to focus on what our business members need, and what they saw a need for was a trip that allowed them to lobby all while getting strong programming focused on what their businesses need.”

Passenger rail
Rebecca Neades, the Iowa City chamber’s director of public policy and members of the Quad Cities rail effort traveled to Des Moines recently to speak with representatives from incoming Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration about passenger rail funding. President Barack Obama approved $230 million in October for Iowa and Illinois to build a passenger rail route between Chicago and Iowa City.

The new Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have said they will not pursue passenger rail projects in their states once they take office in January; even those states were approved for federal dollars. Mr. Branstad has not publicly announced how he will handle the passenger rail issue.

“I’m feeling pretty good about the governor. I think it’s going to be a tougher road with the Legislature,” Ms. Quellhorst said.

The Legislature has previously approved funding for the project, which will act as the state’s match. The match is necessary to receive the federal funding. The Legislature can change the funding commitment in the future. As of now, Iowa’s share of funding will come from a combination of state appropriations and local funding. The legislature appropriated $3 million for fiscal 2010, $2 million for 2011 and $6.5 million for 2012. Lawmakers also approved intent language to provide up to $20 million over four years to help fund Iowa’s commitment for matching federal passenger rail funding. 

International business trip
The Iowa City chamber also announced last week that it will travel to India for its business trip in 2011.

The nine-day trip to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra is open to chamber members from the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids chambers, friends, family and future members. Registration closes Jan. 21. Cost is $2,190 per person.

The trip will offer participants international business learning opportunities, and sightseeing excursions. For more information, contact Nicole Harrington at or (319) 337-9637.