Region Four members press industry concerns on Capitol Hill
By Brock Huffstutler and Connie Lannan
Nearly 60 members of the American Rental Association (ARA), including those from Region Four, 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 the issues and concerns of the industry.
Thanks to a Capitol that is now 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.”
“I thought it went very well, actually. I was nervous to start out with, this being my first go-around,” says Brandon Marrs, president, Top Gunn Equipment Rentals, Austin, Texas, who serves as Legislative Committee chair on the Texas Rental Association (TRA). “You know, walking past the Capitol and the Washington Monument, it kind of all hits you before you roll into the House buildings where the reps are. But once you got in there and got to talking to them — they’re just like us. They are people like us. We were able to find common ground with them and connect with every one of them on something.”
Keith Kitchens, CERP, vice president, Tomball Rental Center, Tomball, Texas, who serves as president of the TRA, thought the new format was a positive change. “The new structure of the meetings, I think, turned out well. We got to meet with a more targeted group of representatives this time around, so that will hopefully have some good impact,” he says.
As far as the actual meetings, all concerned felt positive about their interactions with those at the Capitol.
“The visits were good. We made the most of our time,” says Angela Nussel, CERP, vice president, Premiere Events, Austin, Texas, who serves as ARA Region Four director. “Overall, we received a warm welcome and a high level of interest. All the staff members we met seemed interested in what we had to say, the issues we are facing and how pending legislation can impact our industry.”
Nussel was particularly impressed with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Texas) staff. “We were able to meet Rep. Doggett briefly as he was heading off to vote. We met with a member of his staff. That person had actually researched my company and familiarized herself with the industry. And I have received follow-up from their office — initiated on their end — to continue the discussion. I was impressed and pleasantly surprised. I was happy that they were open and wanted to continue the conversation,” she says.
Marrs agrees. “Everyone we met with seemed to sincerely care about our issues,” he says. “Now it’s on us to follow up and move forward from here. We have to keep pushing. There’s more work to be done after this.”
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.
After going on all the visits, Nussel became more adamant about the importance of meeting with your legislators.
“My takeaway is that we all need to take the time to meet with our lawmakers on the local, state and national levels so we can represent our industry and educate our leaders,” she says. “A lot of times they don’t know about our industry. They have so much on their plate and have to deal with so much legislation. It is so helpful to meet with them to familiarize them with issues we are passionate about. I am really grateful to ARA for organizing this event. They did an outstanding job. I really appreciate this opportunity to be able to represent our ARA members on a national level and familiarize our senators and representatives with the rental industry.”