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At the Intersections of Learning and Work, Chambers of Commerce Can Build Bridges to New Opportunities


In the continuous quest to bridge higher ed and the workforce, chambers of commerce can serve a critical role, connecting institutions and learners to local businesses and the opportunities they provide.

In the ever-evolving landscape of regional development, synergy among business owners, postsecondary institutions and civic leadership is paramount. As former Executive Director of the Galena Area Chamber of Commerce and now Director of Membership Marketing and events for CAEL, I envision strong partnerships bridging these entities to build a robust economy that offers all citizens economic mobility and prosperity. It takes the credibility and authority of trustworthy, capable intermediaries to foster the kind of mutually beneficial collaboration that powers the industry-education-workforce ecosystem we aspire to.  

The recent announcement of a reciprocal membership partnership between CAEL and the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) marks a significant stride toward achieving this vision. It’s a vision, not just of sharing resources but also of fostering a community of learning and collaboration. This partnership facilitates the exchange of best practices, research, technical expertise and networking events between the two organizations. ACCE’s membership encompasses 1,300 chambers and more than 1.2 million businesses in the U.S. Hundreds of complementary stakeholders, including convention and visitors bureaus and economic development organizations, are also among their members. Meanwhile, CAEL’s membership is at the highest point in its 50-year history, with more than 5,000 individual members. Aiding that growth are the increasing numbers of workforce and industry representatives joining their postsecondary education counterparts in support of CAEL’s mission. 

ACCE is just the latest example of how additional workforce development perspectives are complementing CAEL’s rich bedrock of postsecondary membership to advance our mission and focus our vision. CAEL’s 2023 strategic partnership with The Graduate! Network (TGN) resulted in a number of chamber and economic development organizations joining CAEL, bolstering the CAEL community in diversity as well as in numbers. The inclusion of members like the Detroit Regional Chamber, Greenville (South Carolina) Chamber of Commerce and OneSpartanburg (South Carolina) underscores a commitment to expanding our collaborative network in ways that make us more effective individually and collectively. Incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences, these partnerships enrich the pool of experience and expertise at the heart of CAEL’s membership.  

As our membership grows in numbers and diversity, it is also growing in its capacity to transcend mere cooperation to embrace and embody active collaboration. Through such collaboration, we can introduce partnership models, collect employer education program data and develop navigable career pathways that offer education, training, and employment continuity to adult learners and workers even amid an ever-shifting labor market landscape. By empowering individuals and employers to thrive in a continually changing economy, we can ensure the ecosystem fosters inclusive and resilient communities. 

Chambers of commerce, as key regional stakeholders, are essential in the critical discussions impacting regional development and economic strategies. They have a crucial voice because they convey a wealth of local business insights and a deep understanding of regional economic dynamics honed by their own strong collaborative networks. Engaging chambers more fully in these conversations adds new dimensions to the broader collaboration between public and private sectors, fosters more informed decision-making and drives economic growth initiatives that align closely with the needs and potentials of local businesses—the same local businesses that hire the adult learners and workers who remain at the center of CAEL’s mission and vision. This inclusion will not only empower regions to implement more effective and targeted workforce policies but also ensure that the voices of diverse business communities are heard, ultimately leading to more resilient and prosperous regional economies. 

Whether you spend your time at a chamber, postsecondary education institution, private business, civic leadership or any of the other countless places where learning and work intersect, we are focused on growing the number of ways you can participate in and benefit from CAEL’s community of practice. While each of these spaces offers a unique and important perspective, they all share a common aspiration: building robust career and education pathways that not only meet the needs of today but also pave the way for a brighter tomorrow. By embracing collaboration, innovation and inclusivity, we can achieve those aspirations together in far greater measure than we could apart. You can find the latest opportunities to participate in our community of practice at