Chamber leader travels near, far with a message: This bill is bad

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles of economic movers and shakers in the community.

CONCORD – It wasn’t the outcome Chris Williams was hoping for.
Williams, the president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, was in Concord to lobby against a bill, SB 40.

State representatives holding a work session in mid-May on the legislation ultimately voted in favor of recommending the bill to pass, arguing that it represented the best interests of employees.

The bill pertained to whether companies with 75 or more employees should be required to give 60 days notice when laying off a third of the work force or shutting down completely.

The vote didn’t go Williams’ way, but that didn’t stop him from asking for some legislators to stick around and chat.

As local businesses try to weather this prolonged economic slump, Williams said the most effective way he can represent their interests is working in Concord to track legislation that could either hurt or benefit them.

Williams said he spends three days a week in Concord on average speaking at hearings and talking with legislators.

“I recognize that businesses don’t have that kind of time to come up here and speak for themselves,” he said.

Williams said he hasn’t spent as much time trying to fight any bill more than SB 40, and the recession only raises the stakes.

After the recent vote, Mary Gorman and Sally Kelly, both Democrats who voted for the bill in the work session agreed to speak with Williams a little longer.

The goal was to convince them why the bill is bad for the state. Williams said his biggest concern was the impact the bill would have on attracting new businesses to the state.

New Hampshire would become less attractive than other states that follow the federal guidelines, he said.

“When new businesses are looking to expand, they’re going to compare our regulatory system to Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts,” he said. “We need to keep in mind what we do here and how it relates to our neighbors.”

While the stated purpose of the bill is to protect employees, Williams said it’s important to strike a balance between protecting businesses and employees.
“If we can’t get companies to come to New Hampshire, there will be no one left to hire those employees,” he said.

The federal WARN Act requires businesses with 100 or more employees to comply with the notice requirement, but state lawmakers were considering whether to lower that threshold to businesses with 75 or more employees.

Williams had spent six hours the weekend before the work session doing research.
“No issue has taken more time,” he said.

The bill is coming back for a house vote next week.

Lobbying in Concord isn’t the only thing keeping Williams busy these days.

The economy attracted his attention when a group of job seekers sprouted up in Nashua. The group, Network for Work, had been meeting weekly at the Nashua Public Library. But the group had grown so large that the space at the library had become inadequate.

Williams, on behalf of the chamber, stepped in and contacted three Nashua hotels – the Radisson, the Marriott and the Crowne Plaza – and asked whether they would be willing to donate their space for the meetings.

The hotels donated the space and the group is now meeting at one of the hotels each week, Williams said.

“It’s been a great way for the chamber to reach out and support a large number of people,” he said.