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Region Nine members press industry concerns on Capitol Hill and at the state Capitol

By Brock Huffstutler and Connie Lannan

May 16, 2023

The Region Nine contingent heading up the steps of the U.S. Capitol: left to right, Steven Herring, Alberto Pianelli, Matt Crawford, Jared Medaris, CERP, and Robert Pedersen

The Region Nine contingent heading up the steps of the U.S. Capitol: left to right, Steven Herring, Alberto Pianelli, Matt Crawford, Jared Medaris, CERP, and Robert Pedersen

American Rental Association (ARA) members in California made their voices heard on important issues impacting the equipment and event rental industry on both the federal level through ARA’s National Legislative Caucus this past March in Washington, D.C., and state level through the ARA of California’s State Legislative Day last month. See how these events went and the impact they had on both those attending and the industry.

National Legislative Caucus

Nearly 60 ARA members 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 industry’s issues and concerns.

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

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.

Robert Pedersen, left, and John McClelland, far right, with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta's Chief of Staff Pete Spiro

A Tool Shed’s Robert Pedersen, left, and ARA’s John McClelland, far right, with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta’s Chief of Staff Pete Spiro

Those issues were of particular importance to Matt Crawford, owner, Far West Rents & Ready Mix, Lincoln, Calif., who serves as treasurer on the ARA of California board. “I wouldn’t say one more than the other [impact my business], but workforce development is a big one. Just trying to get qualified employees to work and stay working has been a really big issue. I know I’m not the only one. A lot of the businesses in California and nationwide [are affected]. Taxes are going to be a big one, too, if they don’t reform Section 179,” he says.

This year, ARA collaborated with partners from Capitol Counsel and the 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.”

Jared Medaris, CERP, president, Expo Events, Fresno, Calif., who serves as president of the ARA of California, liked the new format. “It was good to go in groups. Typically, with [Caucus attendees from] California we kind of split up and go solo, so I think partnering up and going out to visits this year was a cool experience,” he says.

As a first-time Caucus attendee, Steven Herring, president, All About Events, Paso Robles, Calif., who serves as ARA of California vice president, wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Luckily, I was put with a group who had been there before. I jumped in on the first meeting and gave my points. After that I felt comfortable. I did my preparation before going to Washington, D.C. I met with my CPAs back at home and went over the tax issues and educated myself even more on those issues. Also, with the H2B visas, I talked with temporary labor companies. Even with the catalytic converters, I am lucky that I haven’t been directly impacted, but I spoke with my brother-in-law who owns an auto body shop. It is a huge issue in his industry too. He gave me all his insight on that. Between that and the meetings offered by ARA, I felt prepared and educated,” he says.

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

“I think all the topics went over well. We got a lot of traction on the H-2B visas,” Medaris says.

All the meetings “went great,” Crawford adds. “All of the staff members I met with were very engaged and knowledgeable on the topics we brought to them. I also was able to attend a meeting with U.S. Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.). He is the representative for our Region Nine Director Alberto Pianelli’s district. It was an excellent meeting. He was caring and responsive to the issues we are dealing with in the rental industry.”

“I was pleasantly surprised with how in tune all were with the subjects we were talking about and how receptive they were,” Herring says. “They were very educated on the topics that we were discussing. I felt all my 11 meetings were very productive. I came out with a positive outlook.”

Herring found this particularly true with regards to the tax issue. “Explaining it on the national level, we showed how it will be a huge hit not just on our members but also the manufacturers, etc. The consumer will be hit the hardest because if we cannot depreciate our equipment, we will need to pass that cost on. No matter what side of the aisle they were on, they understood the negative impacts that this will have on our industry and consumers in general,” he says.

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 staff. Then, Caucus wrapped up with a lunch at the Capitol Hill Club that featured guest speaker U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.).

Left to right: John McClelland, ARA vice president of government affairs and chief economist, and Robert Pedersen, president of A Tool Shed, Santa Cruz, with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif, 19th District)

Left to right: John McClelland, ARA vice president of government affairs and chief economist, and Robert Pedersen, president of A Tool Shed, Santa Cruz, with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.)

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

Medaris emphasized the importance of having those in the industry participate in Caucus, telling their stories of how issues impact them and their businesses.

“I think it’s good to have face-to-face meetings with members of Congress so they get to know who we are. I know that for me, coming the last time, I was able to reach out to some of the people [reps/staffers] that I spoke with and just let them know what was going on with our business during the pandemic. So I definitely see an advantage as we meet with members of Congress and their staff to just let them know who we are and what our industry is. And sometimes — well, at least I hope — if there is an issue that touches our industry, it brings that top-of-mind awareness to them, so that way they remember, ‘Oh yeah, I met with someone from the rental industry,’” he says.

Crawford agrees. “Attending Caucus is valuable, especially when done on a regular basis, to keep issues and bills that affect our industry in front of our representatives and senators,” he says.

Herring confirmed those sentiments. “I am a firm believer that if there are issues, you need to have your voice be heard. To be able to go directly to the policymakers and voice your opinions to them, well, I don’t think there is any better way to do that. Whether they vote in favor of your issues or not, having your voices heard and being able to go back home to show that you are truly fighting for the industry is important,” he says.

ARA of California State Legislative Day

Rob Pedersen with A Tool Shed, left, with ARA of California board members at the Fireside Chat

Rob Pedersen with A Tool Shed, left, with ARA of California board members at the Fireside Chat

Beginning with the Tuesday night, April 18, “Fireside Chat” at Made in the Shade Tent Rentals in Sacramento, Calif., and continuing with meetings with state legislators and their staff members on Wednesday, April 19, the two-day gathering had a powerful impact, according to those who took part.

“The two events were really awesome and very exciting. We had a lot of success,” Medaris says. “Tuesday night had a little bit of everything — a food truck, socializing and great presentation by Paul Smith from Ogletree Deakins [ARA’s human resources affinity partner] who talked about labor laws in California. Plus, ARA CEO Tony Conant, ARA Vice President of Government Affairs and Chief Economist John McClelland and ARA Director of Chapter Leadership Relations Lori Byerly, as well as ARA of California lobbyist Scott Sadler, were there. John spoke about what we were planning for our visits the next day. Having the powerhouse ARA team there was awesome as it was the first time many of the 40 members who came to this event had the chance to meet them.”

Alberto Pianelli, general manager, F & B Rentals, Santa Ana, who serves as ARA Region Nine director, agrees. “The Tuesday night event was great. We all enjoyed the hospitality from Made in the Shade and had a great meeting. It was awesome to see everyone there, and we all thank Tony, John and Lori for coming out from ARA to show their support to our state,” he says.

The next day, 12 California members met for breakfast and then headed to the temporary office facility where the legislative offices are while the state Capitol is under construction.

Topics ranged from the electrification of forklifts and other equipment to labor force issues and opportunities to get the next generation involved in the industry.

The electrification of equipment was a hot topic, Pianelli adds. “We talked about the future of California rentals and the impact that will be made with the laws that are coming. A lot of it was explaining the effect that future laws will have on our businesses.”

Left to right: Michelle Strand with Interstate 80 Forklift, Vacaville, California State Senator Bill Dodd (D) and Kevin Vasquez with Made in the Shade, West Sacramento

Left to right: Michelle Strand with Interstate 80 Forklift, Vacaville, California State Sen. Bill Dodd (D) and Kevin Vasquez with Made in the Shade, West Sacramento

Pianelli and Herring had the opportunity to talk directly with Sen. Bob Archuleta (D) about this topic.

“We talked about the impact electrification of equipment would have, particularly during disasters,” Pianelli says. “When we had all that snow and the power lines were out and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) couldn’t clear the roads, they had to bring in loaders to help do that. Those machines are all diesel-powered engines. If they were all-electric units and there wasn’t any power up there, they would have had to bring generators up there. What is going to power those? We put it into their minds that we still need diversified power sources and they need to take into consideration our industry, the impact we have and the impact it would have if we had to switch to all battery-powered units.”

Herring, who used to work for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), brought up the fact “we are in a high wildfire area and that PG&E [Pacific Gas and Electric] now has wind sensors on their high-wire transformers. If the wind is too high, it could shut down the transformers, which could shut down the power for possibly 100,000 people. When I worked for Cal Fire, we used chainsaws to cut lines. So, if we are in a high-wildfire area and PG&E shut off the power, we wouldn’t be able to power our equipment. With the inconsistency of PG&E shutting down power transformers, it is a slippery slope because the infrastructure is not there. That sparked the senator’s interest. He said he never thought about it,” Herring says.

“Sen. Archuleta asked that ARA come back with more numbers and more research so he can potentially propose a bill for emergency use, allowing us to keep these machines around,” Pianelli says, “so it was a very productive meeting.”

All their other meetings went well, too.

“I met with Assemblywoman Dawn Addis (D-District 30), who represents my county. I talked about what ARA is and educated her on the impact our industry has on the state and our local economies. Being in event rental, I talked a lot about events. Rob Pedersen, who went with me to that meeting, touched on the equipment side of things and the crucial role the equipment sector has played in response to our recent rain disasters,” Herring says.

“I met Sen. Anna Caballero (D) for a few moments and then continued with one of her staff members,” Medaris adds. “We talked about setting up a meeting with the senator in Fresno this summer.”

Medaris also met with Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria (D-District 27). “This is her first term. She used to be on the Fresno City Council. I had meetings with the council during the pandemic about relaxing some of the tenting rules. We started a relationship there, and then when she was campaigning, she knocked on my home door. I had an opportunity to talk with her then. She knew my business as she has been a customer of ours. When I saw her in Sacramento, she remembered me. That was cool,” he says.

Making these connections is important, Herring notes. “The national and state advocacy are important. You are meeting with your actual lawmakers — putting a face with the name, and they are putting a face with the name of your business. When there are issues you want to discuss as a constituent and business owner who has already met them, you are having conversations and building those relationships. They will be more inclined to listen and understand,” he says.

Because of that, “we encourage all the members to get involved with their local communities and know who their reps are locally, nationally and on the state level,” Pianelli says. “It is important to reach out and get to know these people so they can take into consideration who we are. Doing so will make our conversations stronger and help our industry continue to grow.”

If members have questions about getting involved in this way, “contact anyone from the state chapter board,” Medaris says. “If a bill comes through about the electrification of forklifts or other equipment, we might even do a letter-writing campaign as a group to let our voices be heard even stronger.”