The Partnership between the Business Council of Alabama and Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama is going strong after a decade of representing and fighting for business interests at the local, state, and national levels.
Charles Nailen Jr. of BBG Specialty Foods in Dothan, the 2003-04 BCA chairman, was a signer of The Partnership agreement in October 2003. The Partnership united local Chambers of Commerce through the CCAA and enhanced the BCA’s strength in the state and nation’s capitals.
“This was seen as taking the grass roots (of the chambers) to the next level with our memberships,” Nailen said. “When you get to the point of combining chambers of commerce throughout the state with the BCA you’ve really got a lot of boots on the ground.”
At the time, BCA chairs served from fiscal year to fiscal year. Nailen was chairman for part of 2003 but during his term of office, the chairman’s position was switched to a calendar year, so he served as BCA chairman for the entire 2004 year.
The BCA shares its expertise on state and federal business issues as well as its contacts in those areas. At the time of its creation, The Partnership represented some 50,000 businesses.
John Seymour, President and CEO of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the 2003 CCA Chairman, also was a signer of The Partnership.
“It’s done a lot better than I ever thought,” Seymour said. “I think we’ve given our guys exposure and participation opportunities at the state level, and it’s also given Billy a chance to get into the local communities and talk about issues, talk about the Legislature.”
Billy is William J. Canary, the BCA’s President and CEO who worked with then-CCAA President Ralph Stacy among others to bring The Partnership agreement to the table. Canary said the mission was to create the strongest voice with 50,000 members.
“With our membership we represent over 1 million working Alabamians,” Canary said. “Each chamber has a voice. Put together we have the largest shout.”
Nailen said when Canary was being considered for the BCA position, the search committee asked him how he would take the organization to the “next level.” Canary replied, “’Bringing grassroots organizations into the BCA family’,” Nailen said in a recent interview.
The unique Partnership came together quickly soon after Canary was named President and CEO in 2003. “When we talked to Billy, told him all the local chambers needed a better presence at the state level, we thought the BCA needed more linkage with the local level,” Seymour said.
Canary had organization unifying experience from 2001 to January 2003 as president of the American Trucking Association. On his watch he built bridges between the national organization and highly independent state affiliates and councils.
“During his tenure, he helped restore a full measure of trust, which had frayed under the pressures of ATA’s restructuring, between the national federation, its councils and state trucking associations,” according to an ATA statement when Bill Graves became the ATA President.
Darrelyn Bender is the former President and CEO of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. She chaired the CCAA in 2004. “Billy just had such a world of knowledge as far as his work with pulling truckers together, he really captured the picture of what we could accomplish together,” Bender said.
Bender said the BCA’s annual legislative agenda is a valuable roadmap “to help build ours.”
“The power of The Partnership is the power of members,” Bender said. “Smaller chambers are too small to have governmental affairs persons so you have in partnership with the Business Council of Alabama the ability to send information to all chambers and they can pick and choose what they want to adopt.”
“The BCA does not dictate what our members should get involved in,” said Kirk Mancer, President and CEO of the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and the CCAA Chairman in 2010 and 2011. “It’s truly a win-win for chambers at all levels.”
Steve Holt, President of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the CCAA in 2001, said local chamber access to the BCA committee structure keeps members up to speed on issues such as health care on the national level.
“Our desire to solidify the Chamber organizations across the state with leadership and Ralph and Billy Canary’s vision was to take this to a much higher level and former a true partnership with BCA,” Holt said. “It works.”
Partnership agreement signer Mike Thompson, President of Thompson Tractor Co. Inc. and chairman of the BCA for 2002-03, said a formal bond with Alabama’s chambers of commerce made sense because “every chamber is proactive in business.”
“Everybody back then felt like a strong affiliation with every chamber gave us a better outlook for business, more support for the BCA and more support for each chamber,” Thompson said. “For me it made sense to bring in thousands of companies. It’s proven to be correct over the 10-year affiliation.
“I’m still very proud of what we started,” Thompson said.
Nailen said The Partnership is well coordinated and can “bring folks into Montgomery when we need them.”
“When we formed The Partnership we went to a more sophisticated level of communications not only verbal but written in the Capital Briefing published every week when the Legislature is in session and the Washington Briefing, keeping folks up to date,” Nailen said in a recent interview.
Ronnie Acker is the Bessemer Chamber of Commerce executive and the 2013 CCAA chairman.
“It’s been a great thing for both the CCAA and the BCA,” Acker said. “As far as a local chamber like the Bessemer chamber, it’s provided my members with connections to the Business Council that we probably missed before The Partnership came into effect, the governmental briefings, the action on legislation, the updates we get, the different participation across the state.
“As far as the BCA is concerned, the Partnership provides them with a bigger footprint when they go talk about business legislation,” Acker said. “They not only have the big companies but they have our small local companies and members that are backing them.”
Jim Page, the 2014 CCAA Chairman and President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa, witnessed the birth of and has watched the growth of The Partnership. “It’s been extremely beneficial to both sides,” Page said.
The BCA is the premier business association in the Alabama capital and Washington, D.C., and is Alabama’s exclusive representative of the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In December 2009, Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, served as the keynote speaker at the historic joint annual Partnership meeting of the BCA and CCAA in Birmingham.
“The Partnership was unique in America in that no other state had created such a linkage of business advocates as had Alabama,” Donahue said. “The Partnership, anchored by BCA’s unwavering support, is building a better Alabama through strong Chambers of Commerce.”
The CCAA consists of Chambers of Commerce, their executives and staff, and members of business and community organizations that directly serve chamber of commerce work in Alabama. The CCAA exists to strengthen the vital role local chambers of commerce play in economic and community development.
The BCA/CCAA Partnership is the first of its kind in the United States and has become a model for other states, said CCAA President and CEO Jeremy Arthur. Arthur was hired in 2012 to lead CCAA and coordinate the efforts of The Partnership after almost a decade leading the local chamber of commerce in Prattville.
The groups represent the interests and concerns of over 1 million working Alabamians.
“Fundamentally, the local chambers are advocating for their specific locales or region,” Arthur said. “Collectively, through the CCAA and The Partnership, local chambers can now band together to form one voice for business and expand that voice beyond their local community to affect an even greater good.”
The Partnership provides a complimentary membership to the BCA for CCAA members, and access to conference calls during legislative sessions with members of BCA’s Governmental Affairs team and local chamber professionals, and access to BCA events including the annual Legislative Reception, Alabama Manufacturer of the Year Awards, Governmental Affairs Conference, and Chairman’s Dinner.
“Having two business organizations working for the betterment of Alabama business statewide is worthwhile,” Mancer said.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Canary said.