Take Your Message to the Hill: Do A D.C. Fly-In with Colleagues

AMBA member Justin McPhee of Mold Craft Inc., shares his experience visiting congressmen and women during a recent Fly-In event with PLASTICS in Washington D.C.

 

Does flying into Reagan National Airport and thinking about the words Capitol Hill, White House, Senate, The House and Washington DC intimidate you? Even though I had done this a couple times several years ago, those nerves came back. One way to grow is to step out of your comfort zone and in this case, it was an attempt to make this great country better for all moldmakers on behalf of the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) and PLASTICS, the The Plastics Industry Trade Association.

This experience was similar in nature to previous AMBA fly-in events in 2009 and 2010, including the morning presentations that helped educate us on the key topics and prepare us for what the afternoon would bring. PLASTICS has a pretty big footprint and many people well-versed on The Hill. They also have many key contacts that brought some very influential people to speak to us in preparation for our meetings, including Linda Dempsey and Dorothy Coleman from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), George Sifakis, assistant to the president and director of public liaison at The White House, and the Honorable Alexander Acosta, the U.S. Secretary of Labor as our keynote speaker. My understanding is that Mr. Acosta is the highest-ranking official to ever present at a PLASTICS Fly-In.

The event was well organized, with a central point of contact reaching out to help each attendee with scheduling visits with the appropriate senators and congress people. I connected with congress people representing the districts in which I vote and where our shop is located. Information was also provided ahead of time, along with a webinar about a week prior to the fly-in, so attendees could review the materials and prepare for the visit. A very important piece of the puzzle is that a seasoned veteran from PLASTICS accompanied us to help “speak the language” and get the meeting started on the right footing. From there they gave us a nice lead-in to “tell our story.” The members of congress want to understand how many employees you have, where you are located and what type of products you produce.

The major topics of interest for the plastics industry that were discussed included:

  • Comprehensive and permanent tax reform which would lower corporate tax rates and lower income tax rates and allow pass-through entities more equal tax treatment. The key benefit is to stimulate confidence, allowing for investment in innovation, expansion and job creation.
  • Open competition for materials on federally-funded projects. The major topic here is in the plastic pipe industry where many local building codes are outdated and only allow cast iron and concrete pipe, but plastic pipe also meets the engineering specifications. Open competition has shown significant savings regardless of material chosen. This will become a growing concern as we continue to upgrade our infrastructure systems.
  • Promote stronger free trade policies to open international markets for U.S. exports and level the playing field. Take a “do no harm” approach to modernize NAFTA from the 1994 agreement to reflect the 21st Century economy with a goal of increasing exports to Mexico and Canada. Also, reduce trade deficits and eliminate trade barriers with countries that have free trade agreements with the U.S. and with those that do not, like China.
  • Help find solutions to close the skills gap and train qualified workers at all skill levels for manufacturing. The goal here is to provide federal funding to support state and local career and technical education (CTE) programs. I spent a good part of each of the meetings talking about how Mold Craft and many other companies are helping at a local level like we did with the Gen Z Connection: Skills and Careers in Manufacturing program at a local high school over the past summer.
  • Pass regulatory reform which puts the rulemaking process back in the hands of congress using sound science and has input from both industry and consumer. Currently, agencies like the EPA can make rules and the decision process isn’t as transparent as it could be and lacks some accountability. There are also situations where the rules cost the government a lot of money because the rulemaking is not going through the appropriations process to vet the burdensome, high-impact regulations.

I was able to meet face to face with my congressman, Tom Emmer, and also the staffers of Betty McCollum on the House side and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken from the Senate. “Staffers” is a government term for the people that help our representatives keep all the balls in the air. One thing they specifically warned us about in the morning training session was the age of the staffers—they are mostly kids just out of college and ranging up to about 30 years old! They are the ones doing a lot of leg work, listening to the constituents from their state or district, taking notes and reporting back to their bosses, as they called their representative or senate member. What we learned from the people at PLASTICS is that even though it may not feel like you made an impact and changed America for the better on that afternoon of meetings, you did. The representatives appreciate having industry visit them and tell them what really matters. We also left each staffer with a packet highlighting our topics so they could brief their teams after our meetings. These visits served to also open the door for the PLASTICS representative that was in the meeting with us, so the next time they reach out to the legislators they already have a foot in the door.

One of the most important aspects is follow-up. Based on our timing of the meetings at the end of July, and with the congress at recess until September 4, the representatives are back in their home states. A properly-timed thank you letter and an invitation to visit the shop to see what we are up to could help build a stronger relationship between the representatives, small businesses and manufacturing.

As a final note, I would say that I will do it again. It wasn’t easy. Progress was made in baby steps at best, plus it was hotter than blazes wearing a suit and tie (even though the temps and humidity were lower than normal) and the event definitely took me out of my comfort zone as I am not well versed in anything political. Still, this was a very interesting experience. It is really an eye-opener to catch a glimpse of how congress works and be at the center of what makes our country work—or not work in some cases! I share the same sentiment as Todd Schuett of Creative Technology when I think of how busy we are in each of our companies: You have no right to complain if you’re not getting involved. It’s our responsibility. I would encourage you to consider attending next year’s fly-in and experience it for yourself, your company and the state of manufacturing.

 

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