I woke up this morning and began year 11 in my role as Boulder Chamber president and CEO. And though our charge at the Boulder Chamber is to always look forward, with an eye toward achieving our vision of building community through business, I can’t help but take a brief pause for reflection on a couple of lessons I’ve learned over the past decade.
Take the long view
At a time when there are expectations of 24-hour communications access, when corporations measure success by quarterly increments, and it seems our customers demand instantaneous responses, I’ve come to recognize that the work of community-building often responds better to a more measured pace. Sure, there are short-term policy victories and successful programmatic responses, something that was essential in our periods of crisis. Too often, though, those are transitory forms of progress.
From my perspective at the helm of a 117-year-old organization, sustainable success is measured in much longer-term trends and with a yardstick that doesn’t always run in a straight line.
Take Boulder’s struggle to accommodate housing that is affordable to a wider diversity of our workforce and their families. For far too long, our climate-sensitive and social equity-minded community was heading down a path that was inconsistent with those core values in our lackluster approach to housing development and infill strategies. Many short-term pitched battles over specific developments or regulatory tweaks were won and lost in City Council chambers, with wide pendulum swings that hampered true progress.
After years of coalition-building among the traditional adversaries of environment, social and business interests, the political barriers to housing development are beginning to fall, and we’re starting to see evidence of progress, such as approval for up to 5,000 housing units in the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan and 1,100 housing units through the CU South annexation agreement. Even more important, it seems our collective community ideology has moved toward a broader acceptance of redevelopment principles. While short-term action will always play an important role, my 10 years of experience tell me it’s more rewarding to take the long view in search of truly sustainable solutions.
It takes a village with a strong business voice
For far too long, Boulder’s business community operated in a silo. Maybe it was a habit business leaders adopted that was suitable for periods when their voice was the only one that seemed to matter in political circles. In Boulder, more likely, a certain antagonism to corporate success might have convinced our business leaders to keep their heads low. Whatever the history, we know the issues that impact our community also impact business operations, as do the policies and programmatic responses. There is far too much at stake for businesses to stand on the sidelines.
Our community needs a strong business voice at the table, but it doesn’t matter if it’s at the table unless it also gives a seat to the broad spectrum of community interests.
Hand a challenge to Boulder’s business leaders, and they will provide you with a creative and practical solution, considering all the variables at play. Problem solved. Where things go south is when there are variables that either aren’t introduced or, worse, ignored. Yes, the business community, like any other interest group, can muscle-through a policy win over other competing voices. We ignore them at our long-term peril, though, and retribution can be even more painful.
There will always be voices of dissent, and this is not a call for unrealistic harmony. However, at the risk of alienating some of my friends, business leaders do not have sole proprietorship of the best solution to every challenge our community faces. There are great minds at work all-across Boulder, and we need to tap their lived experience, their learned knowledge and their creative instincts. We then all need to listen, debate and work to address the broad spectrum of interests. That is how we arrive at solutions that move the needle forward toward an even brighter future.
Those are a couple of the lessons I’ve learned from 10 years and four hours in the Boulder Chamber executive seat. Of course, there are many more lessons, as well as scars and bruises, I’ve amassed along the way. What I know, mostly, is what a distinct honor it has been to serve our business members and a community I love with a staff team and volunteer leaders I deeply respect. Cheers to more lessons ahead as I look to continue supporting local businesses and strengthening this economy in service to our community.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.