BIA roundtables offer a chance to shape priorities

How business leaders from around NH form the organization’s legislative agenda

In the musical, “Hamilton,” Aaron Burr sings his wish, “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” He’s expressing what many wonder about the process of how public policy is developed. Who comes up with policy positions? How is it determined what legislation should be supported and what should be opposed? In other words, tell us “how the game is played … how the sausage is made.”

The Business and Industry Association is New Hampshire’s only statewide, broad-based business association and represents leading employers in every corner of the state. Our public policy priorities are not determined by my staff and me, nor by horse trading or arm-twisting. They’re created in the open with the input of large and small employers who share their concerns about things like talent recruitment, the economy, energy costs and reliability, and about regulations and legislation that affect their operations.

Every two years, in advance of the next legislative session, BIA establishes a proactive legislative and regulatory agenda through a four-step process. In collaboration with local chambers of commerce and trade associations, business roundtables are held across the state to gather input from business owners and managers about their challenges and priorities. This is the first of the four steps — grassroots, bottom-up discussions to identify problem areas and possible solutions.

In June, BIA will convene nine roundtables — Concord, Hanover, Manchester, Nashua, North Conway, Portsmouth, Tilton, Whitefield and Windham. These discussions are free and open to any employer who wishes to participate.

At these sessions, business leaders are first asked to identify challenges affecting their operations. Next, they rank these challenges from most pressing to least pressing. Finally, business leaders recommend action steps. That is, what should BIA do to try to fix each problem?

Step two of our policy development process is a survey of BIA members based on information gathered from the roundtable discussions. In the survey, we ask our members to rank business challenges from most pressing to least, and recommend actions BIA should pursue in response to those challenges.

The third step is a review of survey results by BIA’s four policy committees. The leadership and participants of these policy committees are volunteers from BIA member companies. August and September policy committee meetings are focused on reviewing the survey results in four broad areas: fiscal policy (how the state raises money through taxes and fees); economic development (workforce housing, transportation and telecommunications infrastructure); manufacturing and end-users (energy cost and reliability, and environmental compliance); and human resources, health care, and workforce development. After discussing survey results, each committee makes its recommendations to BIA’s board of directors regarding public policy priorities and action steps.

In the final step in the policy development process, BIA’s 90-member board of directors receives and discusses all recommendations from the policy committees and establishes BIA’s public policy priorities (and related actions). This becomes BIA’s proactive legislative and regulatory agenda for the upcoming biennium — our public policy priorities document.

After board approval, the document is shared with the governor, lawmakers and regulators to inform them of the business community’s priorities, challenges and recommended actions, and to encourage policymakers to keep these in mind when crafting bills and regulations. 

It should come as no surprise that not every business leader agrees on the best approach to solving every challenge. There will always be differences of opinion on tax policy, energy strategy, health care, economic development, higher education support and a host of issues, large and small. However, most business leaders are thoughtful, reasonable people who want to ensure New Hampshire’s climate for job creation is as strong as possible. That means there is more often consensus among business leaders than difference.

We invite employers from every corner of the state to participate in one of our roundtable discussions. You’re likely to find business colleagues who share the same concerns and priorities as you. Or you may be the first to report the unintended consequences of a new law or regulation that other businesses, and BIA, need to be made aware of. A complete list of BIA roundtables, which run from June 13 to 21, can be found at 

Jim Roche is president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion