State Chamber leaders aim to address misperceptions about business league




Representatives of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce said Thursday the state organization's sole concern is to be an advocate for private businesses across the state and encourage free enterprise.

Whether it's small business, a medium-size sole proprietor or large corporations, the state Chamber concerns itself with what benefits the state as a whole from a business perspective, said Mike O'Neal, state Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

"We're the Kansas Chamber. We're about business," O'Neal said. "We're pretty much private sector driven and what's good for private sector businesses. There may be times there's a local issue that affects you that may not fit squarely with the legislative agenda at the state level."

O'Neal and Kent Beisner, the state Chamber's chief operating officer, were invited to Garden City by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Reynaldo Mesa, local Chamber president, said there may be some misperception about the roles of state versus local. He said the state organization has been helpful and supportive of the local business community, particularly on immigration issues and its importance to southwest Kansas.

"Mike understands that if you have a bill it's got to make sense for the entire state, not just because this is how a few folks think it should be," Mesa said.

Beisner said the biggest difference between the state Chamber and local chambers is one of perspective.

"We are at a 30,000 foot perspective of what's good for every business throughout the state, and sometimes what's good for Garden City isn't what Johnson County wants, and what's good in Wichita isn't what Russell wants. Those local issues we generally don't get involved in unless those local issues impact our entire state," he said.

O'Neal, a Scott City native who served 27 years in the state legislature including four years as Speaker of the House, reiterated his support for rural Kansas.

"I have a great deal of concern about what's going on out here and want to ensure the economic vitality of the region," he said. "The whole state is our interest, but for my part, I want to make sure this part of the state is very successful."

O'Neal said the state Chamber's goal is to make Kansas the best state to do business in. It supports some limited government incentives to make that goal happen, but overall the Chamber is opposed to unnecessary government intrusions or regulations that impede the entrepreneurial spirit. To that end, the state Chamber supports candidates for public office who strongly support business issues.

One attendee questioned the state Chamber pulling its support from Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) who lost a re-election bid in August's primary, especially considering Morris's strong support for the Holcomb Sunflower Electric Corp. power plant.

O'Neal said the Kansas Chamber and Morris worked together in support of Sunflower; however, the decision not to support Morris had nothing to do with that issue. He said Morris on several occasions was "stonewalling good, pro-business legislation" as the reason the chamber pulled its support for his re-election.

"We agreed on a number of issues but I was disappointed with the push-back on a number of issues. I have the greatest respect for Steve. It wasn't a decision the Chamber made willy-nilly, but sometimes you have to take those steps to make progress," O'Neal said. Another question asked how a potential state budget shortfall due to recent budget cuts might trickle down and become more of a burden at the local level, which could potentially hurt business recruitment.

O'Neal does not believe there will be a deficit but said the legislature banked some money knowing it may need to dip into reserves next year. He said the Chamber is following a mission that is largely focused on what's good for business.

O'Neal said the state organization is there as a resource to support local goals where they mesh with state's and to have respectful dialog when the views diverge.

Beisner said he is proud to work with a pro-business governor who wants to grow the state.

"If we want to have the goods and services, and revenue, that we need the state really needs to grow, and we need to bring businesses from outside Kansas to invest capital into the state," he said.

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