My Turn

Opinion: New chairman of state business group: "Keep the Ball Rolling"

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When New Mexico businesses thrive, New Mexico families prosper. That's a shortened version of the purpose of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI), of which I'm proud to be a part and for which I am humbled and honored to serve as board chairman for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

We hope that both members and future members - every New Mexico business should be an ACI member - have noticed the real sea change at ACI over the last few years. That has had a lot to do with the hiring of Jason Espinoza and the team that he now has in place.

At one time, the conventional wisdom was that ACI best protects and best serves New Mexico businesses by simply defending them from harmful legislation and regulations. In ACI's case, playing defense translated to waiting and reacting, but we realized that forward progress more often results from offense, rather than defense, and New Mexico can't afford to backslide any more.

Offense means working with ACI members, with ACI's policy committees and with state legislators throughout the year to craft and introduce legislation that can pass with bipartisan support and really make a difference to businesses' bottom lines.

This proactive approach to business policy resulted in six ACI priorities being passed by the Legislature during the 2017 regular session and signed into law by the governor. That's moving the ball forward. I believe that legislative success is due in large part to so many legislators seeing ACI as an effective, proactive organization that is the voice of business for the entire state.

One of the greatest testaments to that change is that, during the time that I've spent up at the Legislature, I have heard more and more legislators wanting to know ACI's position on a given bill. More often (and in greater numbers), they're approaching Jason, ACI staff and others of us linked to this organization and they're saying, "I don't know much about this bill. I've heard a little bit. What's ACI's take?"

A significant aspect of their confidence in our positions, I believe, stems from the fact that we are demonstrably a member-driven organization. ACI's dozen policy committees, composed of ACI member representatives, regularly meet to deliberate what the priorities will be in their respective areas.

ACI's sea change has also been evident at the policy-committee level. It was no secret before, but people have realized that it's the policy committees where any business can have a voice within ACI. I've seen new leaders step forward and take a fresh look at the policy priorities. Committee members are studiously involved, and there's good, healthy debate in these policy-committee meetings to produce the best and most relevant business policy positions.

As board chair, my vision for the next year is to continue to expand the influence of ACI members, especially regarding those core business values that are so important to all of us throughout the state. As one united business community, we owe it to ourselves to unapologetically strengthen our position through proactive policy discussion and active political engagement.

Each incoming chairperson selects a theme during his or her tenure, and the theme for the 2018 fiscal year is "Keep the Ball Rolling." We often speak as business people that business works best when government helps only when asked but otherwise stays out of the way.

I have a similar philosophy as board chair, which will inform how ACI's board of directors moves through 2018 fiscal year. We will focus on the organization's governance, and we will provide direction as Jason and his staff need it, but we want to get out of the way otherwise. We're going to let Jason do the good work that he's been doing. We're going to keep the ball rolling.

Danny Jarrett is the 2017-2018 chairman of the board of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry and is the managing principal of the New Mexico law office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

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