Perryman is no stranger to lobbying Congress, having started his outreach efforts in 1995, shortly after Vermeer established its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). What started as phone calls to his Texas congressman’s Washington D.C. offices led to meetings with his representatives and their staffers, both in D.C. and back at home.
“We try and make sure we have a chance to meet our congressman in each location where we have a branch, and we make a point to meet with them in Washington D.C. as well as have the congressman visit our employees at our branch locations,” he said. “Building strong relationships with staff members of Congress is vital, as the members themselves are often very difficult to reach.”
Shilling, whose congressional engagement began during his time on the AED board, also stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with legislative staffers.
“This past spring, we decided to invite local congressional staffers to our facilities,” he said. “We gave them a tour and a 30-minute pitch about our industry needs. The staffers do a lot of the legwork for the representatives, so their involvement is crucial. The funny thing is, they do not often get invited to do these things in the field, so we know our visit will be something they remember.”
Shilling also offered a fun tip for ensuring that congressional visits to dealerships are truly unforgettable: “Have the congressional representative or their staffer sit in the seat of some of the equipment you sell and service – the bigger the better. It will make an impression on them.”
Perryman and Shilling are engaging their members of Congress on a number of issues that affect the industry, including infrastructure, tax reform and workforce development.
“Finding a long-term solution for our infrastructure is probably the biggest issue facing our industry,” Perryman said. “The challenge comes from the source of funds, as raising the gas tax does not seem to be a popular solution.”
Shilling, who is a strong advocate of federal aid for workforce development in the form of tax incentives, program funding and student access, also mentioned the importance of securing funding for infrastructure improvements.
“Infrastructure funding has to be a priority with our federal government,” he said. “It should be the easiest issue to fund, but it is not. It should be a bipartisan issue, but it is not. Maybe with our AED leadership and industry insistence we can make the issue bipartisan again and get some long-term funding in place to rebuild our roads and bridges.”
For those in the construction equipment industry who might be considering getting involved and engaging their congressional representatives, Perryman had this advice: Just do it.
“Just pick up the phone and call your congressional office,” he said. “Take the time to come to Washington D.C. and meet your congressional members. Personally invite them to come to your offices back home and meet your employees. They all want to meet constituents. Educate your employees on the issues, how the decisions in Congress can impact your dealership and ultimately the jobs of your company. It is important to know what committees your congressmen are on and how their votes on issues can impact your dealership.”
Not everyone feels comfortable just jumping into the deep end of the pool. For those who find the idea of contacting their members of Congress more than a little intimidating, Shilling suggested letting AED help them take their engagement step by step.
“My involvement with our congressional delegation really started because of AED,” he said. “I attended my first AED Legislative Fly-In the first time I was on the board. Up to that point, I never felt I could really make a difference with our congressional representatives, but AED suggesting how to approach and make appointments with our congressmen really helped me to ‘break the ice’ and get involved. Take the time to go to an AED Fly-In and have Daniel Fisher or AED staff help you set appointments with your congressional members the first time.” When you meet with your representatives or their staffers, “Focus on one or two issues at a time and offer to help any way you can to get things moving in the right direction with specific legislation.”
For more information on AED’s Government Affairs program, contact Vice President of Government Affairs Daniel Fisher at 202-897-8799, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://aednet.org/aed-pac.