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Region Five members press industry concerns on Capitol Hill

By Brock Huffstutler and Connie Lannan

May 15, 2023

Left to right: Scott Irwin, chair of the ARA Board of Directors and president of Delux Rental, Ypsilanti, Mich., and Sue Irwin, vice president, Delux Rental, met with Alec Zender, legislative director for Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.).

Left to right: Scott Irwin, chair of the ARA Board of Directors and president of Delux Rental, Ypsilanti, Mich., and Sue Irwin, vice president, Delux Rental, met with Alec Zender, legislative director for U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.).

Nearly 60 members of the American Rental Association (ARA), including those from Region Five, gathered in Washington, D.C., March 28-30, 2023, for ARA’s National Legislative Caucus. The event brings members of the equipment and event rental industry to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected officials to discuss issues and concerns of the industry.

Thanks to a Capitol that has been reopened to the public, it was the first time ARA was able to host Caucus since 2019.

Caucus attendees had the opportunity to meet with members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and their staff members. During these meetings, attendees talked about four key industry issues:

  • Workforce development
  • H-2B visas
  • Tax policy
  • Catalytic converter thefts

For more information about these issues, click here.

Caucus kicked off that Tuesday afternoon with an opening session featuring Jim Ellis, senior political analyst with BIPAC (the Business Industry Political Action Committee) — a nonpartisan organization that works to improve the political climate in America for the business community and help employers and employees play a more active role in public policy and the political process.

Ellis talked about trends seen in recent election cycles and how their outcomes portend what could occur in the 2024 presidential and congressional contests. “We’re definitely living in an interesting time in American political history,” he said.

The session was followed by a welcoming reception where Caucus attendees could meet one another and network with other equipment and event rental professionals from around the country.

On Wednesday morning, everyone headed to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and staff members. Attendees shared facts, figures and personal stories about how workforce development, H-2B visas, taxes and catalytic converter thefts affect their lives, businesses and the industry.

This year, ARA collaborated with partners from Capitol Counsel and Bose Public Affairs Group to strategically set appointments with the staff of congressional members who serve on influential committees. For maximum impact, these meetings involved ARA members who are uniquely familiar with the issues or whose businesses reside in the committee members’ districts.

“We changed the format a lot this year. We wanted to try to be more impactful and do some things that were segment-specific, and I think that we accomplished those,” says John McClelland, Ph.D., ARA vice president for government affairs and chief economist. “The energy our members brought to Caucus this year was just phenomenal. It feels great to be back in the game.”

Some of the ARA contingent posing for a photo with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Some of the ARA contingent posed for a photo with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) (foreground).

The change in format was a positive move for Ian Goff, CERP, owner, Goff Tents & Events, Nicholasville, Ky., who serves on the ARA of Kentucky board. “I had a tremendous day. I loved the opportunity to be with different business owners, to bounce it back and forth. Before, we were with one group. Now, we got to mix it up and see different people’s perspectives come into the meetings. I thought that was an awesome opportunity,” he says.

As far as the actual meetings, all felt good about their interactions with those at the Capitol.

“I feel like the staffers we spoke with were very receptive to our issues,” says John Jeanguenat, RentalMax, Carol Stream, Ill., who serves on ARA’s Equipment Rental Advocacy Work Group and co-chairs the association’s Equipment Rental Shared Interest Group. “We came prepared; I tried to do my homework and come in with a game plan since this was my first time at Caucus. That preparation helped get the conversations started and really get them thinking about the issues that affect rental businesses.”

Alex Bauman, manager, In-A-Pinch? Rent It!, Martinsville, Ind., who serves as ARA of Indiana secretary, agrees. “It was good. They were very receptive. It was almost like they were excited to see us back after the COVID hiatus. I thought they were ready to meet with people and hear what we had to say. Both sides of the aisle were really open to hearing our issues. They know it’s going to be a tough road, but I think they’re ready to get their hands dirty and get to work. It’s going to be a different session this year. There is a lot of division, but I feel like there is some common ground that they are willing to work through,” he says.

Biff Gentsch, senior product manager with Anchor Industries, Evansville, Ind., had a similar experience. “I had a great day. In addition to meeting with the two senators from Indiana, I had four appointments and talked about all four issues at length with everybody. With the exception of one of the senators, it was a very positive experience,” he says.

Fiona Flory from Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office, left, met with John Jeanguenat, president of RentalMax, Carol Stream, Ill.

Fiona Flory from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office, left, met with John Jeanguenat, president of RentalMax, Carol Stream, Ill.

After a day of meetings, everyone got back together for a reception during which a bottle of Angel’s Envy-brand bourbon with a commemorative engraving was raffled off to raise money for ARAPAC — ARA’s political action committee. $14,300 was raised through the raffle; the money will be used to support candidates running for federal office who support a pro-business environment — regardless of party affiliation.

It was back to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning for a final round of meetings with legislators and their staffers. Then, Caucus wrapped up with a lunch at the Capitol Hill Club that featured guest speaker U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.).

Over the course of the 2023 Caucus, attendees logged approximately 170 appointments with lawmakers.

Reflecting on the experience, first-time Caucus attendee Sue Irwin, vice president, Delux Rental, Ypsilanti, Mich., and a member of the ARA of Michigan board, says the day “was enlightening.”

“I have always wanted to be able to see what our members of Congress do every day and how the system works. While we didn’t have a chance to speak with our senators or representatives, we were able to speak with their staff members, who were very engaged and knowledgeable. It was pretty exciting. I felt good when I left that they would pass along our information and our reasons for the positions we had to the legislators they work for. I felt our voices had been heard,” she says.

She also walked away with some valuable insight. “I learned not to get frustrated. It takes time and it certainly won’t happen overnight. The best you can do for yourself and your fellow rental operators is to keep at it. Determine what are the most important issues and address those and just keep on them. Several staffers asked us to keep in touch and let us know what is going on. They invited us to open up a dialogue between them and us. That was impressive,” she says.