17 May 2013 09:57 [Source: ICB]
Advocacy at a local level is proving highly effective - so now is a great time for NACD members to expand their political ambitions
As the reach of government and regulation grows ever stronger, NACD believes it is vital for its members to realize they have a powerful voice as individuals, and to help them make useful contact with politicians.
Lintech tour group with Rep. Scott
According to Elizabeth O'Neal, NACD's senior manager, government affairs, it is important for NACD members to get to know their Members of Congress, to speak up in support of chemical distribution and build supporters in Congress for issues of importance to NACD.
"Politicians are interested in what their constituents have to say. Direct advocacy - a voter talking to a legislator - is the most effective way to promote what is in the best interests of our industry," she says.
With a limited amount of chemistry expertise on Capitol Hill, many politicians may not understand how chemical distribution represents a great service in the country's supply chain. It is important for them to understand why chemistry is vital to the North American economy.
"NACD members can serve as an expert resource to legislators on policy issues that affect NACD. Taking time to get to know elected officials means they know us when a policy issue comes up for a vote," adds O'Neal.
NACD has two important initiatives that are most effective in making connections between politicians and its members: the annual Washington Fly-In and facilitating local site visits.
Around 70 people came to its Washington Spring meeting in 2012 and a similar number signed up for this May's event. There is a full day of training for NACD members before the event and then a full diary of meetings on the day itself.
O'Neal says: "Some people seem to really enjoy seeing how the Washington process works and come back year after year. NACD members love it and the event grows bigger and better each year. This event has been successful in establishing good working relationships between chemical distributors and elected officials - reinforced when those Members of Congress return home to their states and see us at home, too."
The other key initiative is the Site Visit Program, which started in 2011 and grew from seven visits that year to 10 in 2012. Politicians are invited to sites to meet staff and learn how the business works and the challenges it faces. NACD can help organize the whole visit, including guidance on advocacy issues.
"There is a saying: 'All politics is local' and there is no substitute for having conversations with local politicians back home. When a Congressman is wearing a hard hat, standing in a warehouse, they can understand a bit better how the regulatory regime can impact our business," O'Neal says.
The NACD Site Visit Program has taken a life of its own, to the point that many members no longer need NACD staff assistance and host Members of Congress routinely. Many NACD business owners are already actively engaged at a political level. Others are not so comfortable in this environment, while some are simply not aware of the opportunities available, says O'Neal.
"It's so exciting to see someone realize: 'I can influence Washington'. They are real people who I can influence and I can have my voice heard. We just want to make the process as smooth and streamlined as possible. It's all about relationships and education," she says.
Asked to flag up a particularly productive example of a site visit, O'Neal highlights Barton Solvents in Kansas City, where, in 2012, Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) paid separate visits to the site.
Congressman Pompeo had introduced a bill familiarly called the General Duty Clause bill, which tackled a policy issue many NACD members face regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's General Duty Clause in the Clean Air Act. Following his visit, Senator Roberts introduced his own senate bill to address the policy issue.
"This is a great example of a legislator visiting an NACD facility and witnessing first-hand the legislative and regulatory concerns under which our companies operate. This site visit likely contributed to Senator Roberts' decision to introduce his bill."
NACD members can also write letters or make direct phone calls to their Members of Congress on policy issues of concern. They also visit regional industry roundtables or in-district office meetings with Members of Congress, to keep relationships strong. The group also issues advocacy alerts if an issue crops up that concerns its members.
The organization has a Government Affairs Department with dedicated experts who focus on legislative or regulatory issues. NACD president Chris Jahn has a Washington background and plays a key role in representing the industry at federal level. As well as O'Neal, other important staff members are John Shanahan, vice president legislative affairs; and Jennifer Gibson, vice president regulatory affairs.
"We offer NACD members guidance and help to get started building a new relationship with a new member of Congress, or opportunities to strengthen and maintain existing relationships. Politics is all about relationships - NACD values that," adds O'Neal.
Deeks & Company, Inc.
"Hank Johnson, a Democrat congressman, came to visit us in mid-2012. He had a reputation as not being particularly business-friendly.
He spent more than three hours with us and enjoyed himself immensely. He took the opportunity to sit down with us and talk about what is going on in Washington and for us to ask questions. We took him through our facility and to our warehouses to show him exactly what our business is and he professed to have no idea about chemical distribution.
We tried to stress that our industry sells products to every industry you can think of. You could see the light going on, and that was the biggest benefit. We've kept in touch and I think we've changed his perspective.
We're talking to other Members, especially those in key positions in committees. But we're open to all: let's educate as many people as possible. We need to be as visible as possible to ensure that good regulations are put in place."
Manager, Distribution Services
What was involved in the visit?
Representative Austin Scott from the US House, along with staff members of Senator Saxby Chambliss and Senator Johnny Isakson and our State House visited Lintech International on October 25, 2012. The day included a tour of the facilities, discussion of issues facing a family-owned business, and a ribbon cutting on our recent expansion.
What did it achieve?
I am not sure you can ever fully quantify the impact of visits like this. However, it is rather an education process for the Senators and Representatives. They need to see that chemical distribution is different to chemical production and that our industry works very hard to be safe and good stewards of our products.
Would you recommend this to other NACD members?
We must become involved in the process. The regulatory process is forever moving forward and it is best to have our input in front of the process rather than suffering with a result we cannot live with.
Are you planning any more political activity if this was a success?
I think the current engagement in the political arena does allow us to be heard, but I am really excited about our engagement with the actual regulatory agencies where policy is formulated and written.
AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL MOBILIZES TROOPS
According to Don Thoren, managing director, political mobilization, at the American Chemistry Council, the challenge is on the chemical industry to educate politicians about our industry. Only three House of Representative members have a chemical-industry background. For the ACC, the main task is education - how the industry works and its impact on the economy.
"Congressmen are always happy to come and learn about the contribution our industry makes to the community. I have created our 'political mobilization' department," he says.
The ACC wants its members to understand that the government has a big impact on the running of their businesses.
Typically, after Congressmen arrive at a plant they will meet the plant manager and senior staff. After a safety briefing there will be a tour of the facility which will last around 45 minutes. At the end of the tour the Congressman will be invited to talk to all the employees for 10-15 minutes. ACC tends to focus on members sitting on particular committees plus areas where the industry is strongest.
Last year, ACC achieved 130 site visits and it is aiming for 150 this year. There were also 20 "town hall" visits last year where 75-100 employees from different facilities met a Congressman to discuss chemical or broader issues. Members are willing to attend these as it's an opportunity to meet a lot of voters they represent.
They also hold 20-25 roundtable events where ACC members sit down with a politician who already knows them to focus on chemical industry issues. Some good examples of visits that nurtured good relationships are Congressmen Adam Kinzinger from Northern Illinois, Cedric Richmond from New Orleans and Mike Pompeo of Kansas.
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