Attendance at AED’s Washington Fly-In hit a record high in June, as scores of construction equipment industry representatives headed to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Association’s policy priorities and to learn directly from key policymakers on the prospects for action on the issues important to construction dealers and manufacturers.
Some of D.C.’s most prominent power players addressed the attendees, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.)
“We have a good formula going for this event,” said Daniel B. Fisher, AED’s vice president of government affairs, regarding the success of the 2019 Fly-In. Fisher has helped organize every Fly-In since 2009, but began orchestrating the event three years ago when he took over AED’s government affairs program.
“The Fly-In agenda has evolved tremendously in terms of the quality. In the last few years, some of the most powerful lawmakers in D.C. have participated to discuss important and relevant issues impacting our industry,” Fisher said. “The word is getting out there that dealers do not want to miss the Washington Fly-In and leading lawmakers are eager to take advantage of the opportunity to get in front of AED members.”
As soon as attendees arrived in the nation’s capital, they were treated to The AED Foundation luncheon featuring Scott Stump, the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education. “Most AED members are interested in workforce development issues,” Fisher said.
“The political climate is right for advancements on this issue, as the Trump administration is focused on closing the skills gap by emphasizing career and technical education and industry-led apprenticeships.”
Following lunch,. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, addressed attendees about the importance of engaging in the policy process, and two congressional staffers discussed the inner workings of a congressional office.
Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the leader of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the chair of the House Democrat’s campaign arm, spoke to dealers on the second day of the Fly-In regarding infrastructure, trade and tax issues. Both expressed House Democratic leadership’s strong desire to consider infrastructure legislation and were optimistic about its prospects, although timing for a package was uncertain.
In-between the addresses by Bustos and Neal, Fly-In attendees heard from infrastructure, energy development and workforce development policy experts as well as a panel discussion with government affairs representatives from leading equipment manufacturers. These conversations prepared attendees for their Capitol Hill meetings and gave valuable insights into how OEMs are approaching the current political situation.
In the afternoon, Fly-In participants had the option to visit the Embassy of Canada to the United States to learn firsthand about the importance of the U.S.-Canadian relationship and receive an update on trade issues. Attendees also headed to the White House for a briefing with senior administration officials, including the chief negotiator of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the general counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a top adviser on workforce development issues , all of whom provided valuable insights into President Trump’s policy priorities.
To close out the day, AED members attended an exclusive AED PAC-sponsored reception for Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The Majority Leader offered his insights about infrastructure funding and a variety of other policy and political issues. He cautioned AED members that the chances of a $2 trillion investment weren’t great, although he did express optimism that Congress could pass a five-year surface transportation bill that will avoid multiple, short-term highway program extensions that have plagued the construction industry in past years.
“Most attendees came away with the impression, especially when it came directly from Mitch McConnell, that a big infrastructure bill is likely not going to happen before 2020,” Fisher said. “However, McConnell did say the Senate would focus on a five-year highway bill and all indications are that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is moving forward with goal of having legislation on the Senate floor this fall.”
On the last day of the event, AED members had breakfast with nine leading members of Congress before participating in more than 120 Capitol Hill meetings to discuss infrastructure, workforce development and trade issue with their elected representatives. The experience is mutually agreeable; the members of Congress want to hear from the front lines of the industry and dealers want to learn what their lawmakers are doing to support the construction equipment industry.
“We used to make attendees schedule their own meetings, but that was a huge time commitment for them,” said Fisher. “Now all AED members need to do is just show up in Washington. We take care of everything you need. We want to make it as easy as possible to attend the Fly-In.”
It was AED board member Tommy Ball’s first time attending the Fly-In. The senior vice president and partner at Flagler CE Holdings LLC, was impressed by the political and market synergies found at the event. “My first time at the Fly-In was eye-opening, as all the Members of Congress were extremely interested in hearing about our business as well as our concerns. Everyone agreed that we need an infrastructure bill passed, as well as funding for technical programs in our local colleges.”
Tommy Ball is encouraging more dealers from his district to attend future AED events, like the Fly-In, to deliver an even stronger voice. “I would advise all dealers to get involved and be heard by your members of Congress. Engaging your representatives is imperative to the success of our industry.”
While the 2019 Washington Fly-In is in the books, AED members must continue to advocate for their companies and the industry. “Congressional engagement doesn’t end with coming to Washington one time of year,” Fisher added. “AED member companies must stay involved by hosting congressional visits, supporting AED PAC and attending the association’s events.”
Stay tuned to AED for information about the 2020 Washington Fly-In as details are confirmed.