Start Us Up USA! One Year Later - Washington Insider
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Start Us Up USA! One Year Later

By Christian Klein

Article Date: 09-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.


The joint AED-AEM campaign has led to a surge in industry grassroots activity.


Last summer, AED and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) launched the most aggressive grassroots campaign in the history of our organizations. The idea behind Start Us Up USA! was to tell the story about equipment industry economic conditions and motivate action on legislation to get equipment markets back on track.

First we had to quantify just how bad things were. We enlisted IHS Global Insight, which found that since the start of the recession, equipment sales had fallen by at least 50 percent, the equipment industry had lost 37 percent of its workforce, and, when direct and indirect effects were considered, the downturn in the equipment industry had cost 550,000 jobs nationwide (one out of every seven lost since the start of 2007).

The new data formed the basis for a national public relations campaign. The message: “The national recession is an equipment industry depression.” The launch was a rally and “Idle Equipment Caravan” through the streets of Las Vegas last September. Organized by local industry leaders with support from AED and AEM and an outside PR firm, the event in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) received wide coverage in the national and local press. A similar event followed a few weeks later in President Obama’s hometown of Chicago.

On Oct. 28, 2009, House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) headlined a Start Us Up USA! rally on the National Mall near the Capitol and against a backdrop of 5,500 orange flags (one for each 100 jobs lost). As Oberstar rallied the troops for his highway bill, an equipment caravan made its way through Washington, D.C., horns blaring. No one could ignore the noise, the visual images, or the news coverage that followed.

But the rallies and caravans were just the public face of the campaign. Behind the scenes last year, AED and AEM’s CEOs and industry executives participated in dozens of coordinated meetings with senior members of Congress and Obama administration officials to urge action on a new multiyear highway bill.

We’ve kept the momentum going in 2010 with rallies in San Antonio in January and Des Moines in May. Our joint lobbying activity has continued as well.

This summer, Start Us Up USA! entered a new phase as we launched an effort to get House and Senate candidates to sign a campaign pledge to support strong federal infrastructure programs. The pledge project gets candidates focused on highway needs, while increasing the industry’s political visibility. It also creates an easy way for our members to engage with current and future members of Congress to talk about the impact of infrastructure investment.

Although some parts of our recovery agenda (most notably, the highway bill) are still being held hostage by the partisan atmosphere in Washington, Start Us Up USA! has been a great success. Most importantly, it’s resulted in a surge in equipment industry grassroots activity. Over the past year, members have sent thousands of e-mails to Congress, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Transportation Secretary LaHood and state governors through our AEDaction.org grassroots website. This is an unprecedented mobilization that dwarfs anything seen by AED.

The campaign has also increased awareness at every level of the industry about the importance of what happens in Washington. Many members have been forwarding our action alerts to their employees, so it’s no longer just one person at each company aware of what’s happening in Congress. Thousands of industry employees are now invested and engaged in our government affairs program.

The campaign has also dramatically elevated the equipment industry’s visibility on Capitol Hill. The joint AED and AEM meetings with senior lawmakers helped further distinguish AED and AEM from the other “yellow hard hat” trade associations and made us more effective across the board. Also, thanks to the economic research, which quantified our economic and employment footprint in each state, lawmakers now have a much better understanding of how we fit in to the national and local economies.

Thanks to everyone who’s gotten involved so far. If you haven’t yet, there will still be plenty of opportunities. We’re going to keep fighting until the highway bill is done and the industry is back on track. Learn more at www.StartUsUpUSA.com.

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