Clockwise from top left: Machesney Park Mayor Steve Johnson, Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury, Parks Chamber Executive Director Tonya Lamia and state Rep. Dave Vella. Johnson, Vella and Jury will all be part of The Parks Chamber’s upcoming legislative series. (Photos by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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LOVES PARK — When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in spring 2020 – leading to mandates that forced many businesses to close – The Parks Chamber of Commerce started to reshape its mission to reflect the new reality its members faced.

The chamber’s mission has long been to help businesses by providing tools, connections and other resources needed to succeed. But COVID-19 forced the chamber to focus on crisis management and find new ways to support the business community, said Tonya Lamia, the chamber’s executive director.

“We’ve transitioned to focus on how can The Parks Chamber help businesses survive, recover and thrive,” she said.

As the chamber took more calls about shutdowns and fast-changing health guidelines, its staff found itself more deeply involved in advocating for its members with local political leaders.

“We stood up and said, The Parks Chamber needs to be more active and aggressive in advocacy and legislative affairs,” Lamia said. “And we started working more aggressively and being more vocal with our state legislators.”

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That latest iteration of that focus on legislative affairs is a new series of events meant to connect business leaders to local mayors, state legislators and other government directors.

The chamber’s nine-month legislative series, which starts next month with a State of the Airport address by Chicago Rockford International Airport Director Mike Dunn, gives government leaders a platform to share their latest initiatives with the business community.

But, Lamia said, it will also force those leaders to think about how their work affects local companies and give the business community the chance to speak to their government representatives directly.

“They’re going to think more deeply in preparation for that event about what they’re doing in their role that is positively impacting the business community,” she said.

Each speaker will give a “state of” address – think State of the Union but on a local scale – to talk about successes and ongoing issues and initiatives.

“It’s not just a leader showing up and saying whatever it is they want to say,” Lamia said. “I really feel like this series creates more mindfulness and creates an opportunity to connect directly with the business community.”

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Legislative series schedule

The Parks Chamber legislative event series takes place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month through October at Forest Hills Country Club, 5135 Forest Hills Road. 

Register to attend any of the events here.

Here’s the slate of speakers: 

Feb. 16: State of the Airport with Mike Dunn

March 16: State of Winnebago County with County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli

April 20: State Rep. Dave Vella, D-Loves Park

May 18: State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford

June 15: State Rep. Maurice West II, D-Rockford

July 20: State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford

Aug. 17: State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Loves Park

Sept. 21: State of the Schools with Harlem School District Superintendent Terrell Yarbrough

Oct. 19: State of the Parks with Machesney Park Village President Steve Johnson and Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas.

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