As someone who has spent the past decade working in public affairs with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Emily Denniston recognizes issues on the local and state levels to often be nuanced shades of gray rather than black and white.
Denniston is currently vice president for public affairs with the chamber. She says public policy today gets summed up in 140-character tweets, with politics and policies characterized as liberal or conservative, and narratives often developed around heroes and villains.
But she believes part of her job is to understand all sides of the issues that come before the chamber by providing business leaders and elected officials with background information.
“I work to understand what all the consequences – including unintended consequences – might be,” she says. “The ‘sane center’ can be difficult to seek in public policy, and compromise is often a challenge, but there is significant value in bringing people and ideas together.”
With the chamber, Denniston co-leads its annual Community Leadership Visit that takes a delegation of business, community and education leaders to other communities to learn best practices. She recalls the 2015 trip to Huntsville, Alabama, as a particular standout, which has led to steps forward in improvements to Missouri’s workforce development efforts. Among those was the 2017 passage of House Bill 93, which improved access to the Missouri Works Training Program, along with the chamber’s successful tax levy campaign this past spring for Ozarks Technical Community College that will fund a Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
“I couldn’t see it all in 2015 when we were painstakingly preparing to take the group to Huntsville, but looking back at the hard work of so many and knowing it will bring new opportunities to the region is incredibly rewarding,” she says.
Denniston also finds reward and a sense of responsibility to pay it forward when it comes to mentoring other professional women new to the workforce, much as she feels others have done for her.
“The best experiences I have had involve seeing others thrive after they have struggled. Whether it is a struggle with professionalism, or falling short of the expectations of the job, or falling short of their own expectations, I have experienced all those challenges myself,” she says. “Growing from those challenges, and then getting to use that experience to be a part of another’s learning opportunities and see them come back and do exceptional work is an experience unlike any other.”
As an alumnus of Leadership Springfield and Leadership Missouri, Denniston says her most impactful volunteer role is with the Springfield Sister Cities Association, for which she has been involved since 2010. She notes the role of the organization is to foster “peace through people” by building relationships between Springfieldians and citizens of sister cities in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and Isesaki, Japan. Her involvement in the organization has allowed her to represent Springfield on trips to both cities as part of business and cultural exchanges.
The Forward SGF comprehensive plan was born from the input of residents, and one message that came through loud and clear was their desire for connection.