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First-to-Close, Last-to-Reopen

The Power of Advocacy: Business Event Builders and Suppliers Seek Entry into the Shuttered Venues Grant Program

by Kevin Binger, senior vice president, Cassidy & Associates

Following Congressional passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Congress and the Biden Administration are left to ponder an important question: Are we out of the woods now, or do we still have work to do to keep the economy afloat?

Congress has approved more than $5 trillion in emergency assistance for everything from schools to hospitals to airline workers. Roughly 20 percent of that has gone to hard-pressed small businesses in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans, EIDL loans and shuttered venue grants.

Are there any gaps left to fill? Yes, there are.

The business events industry is still hanging on by a thread. The first to shut down and the last to reopen, tradeshows have borne the brunt of pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings. The convention centers and hotel ballrooms that are normally bustling with activity have gone quiet. The multitude of small businesses that do all the unseen work for these events are hemorrhaging cash and struggling to keep their doors open. And the reopening is still months away.

That’s why industry leaders are plying (virtually) the halls of Congress asking for one last injection of funding to sustain a $100 billion industry that employs 2.8 million people in normal times. Our request to Congress: Expand the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program to include business events and the indispensable small businesses that make them hum.

Industry associations like the Experiential Designers and Producers Association and the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Association, led by Chris Griffin, Dasher Lowe and Jim Wurm, are organizing a lobbying campaign targeting House and Senate Small Business Committee members. Industry stalwarts like Rob Cohen of Display Supply & Lighting, Tim Heffernan of T3 Expo and dozens of others are making the case for action one Congressional office at a time.

The message is starting to sink in. Congressional aides from business event hotbeds like Los Angeles and Chicago now know that more than 9,000 events have been cancelled in the last year, and contractors from their states have lost 90 percent of their revenues. Small Business Committee members from Minnesota now know that Bemidji State University has a leading college program in tradeshow design, and its graduates are losing jobs at unprecedented rates.

Little by little, knowledge is being turned into action:

In early March, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) filed an amendment to the American Recovery Plan to make “tradeshow service providers” eligible for Shuttered Venue Grants. Industry leaders rallied around this amendment. Unfortunately, out of more than 500 amendments filed, only 13 were approved.

In late March, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) introduced a bipartisan bill (H.R. 2120) to make tradeshow organizers, among others, eligible for Shuttered Venue Grants.

Great progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. With the Shuttered Venues Grant Program and the Restaurant Revitalization Program just getting off the ground, there’s a good chance Congress will consider more legislation in this area. Both programs, along with PPP, will probably need more funding and some fine-tuning. The business events industry needs to keep sounding the horn that our industry will be the last to fully reopen, and that service providers have been severely damaged. Congress needs to hear that business events that fill hotel rooms and restaurants in cities across the country will struggle if too many small businesses that are the backbone of the industry wither away.

There’s no guarantee that the Shuttered Venues Program will be expanded to include business events, but there is a chance. EDPA and EACA will continue to lead the charge and make sure our industry is heard amid the clamor of urgent requests for help during this pandemic. Hopefully this sustained effort will get us the help we need to make sure business events come roaring back as soon as possible.

Kevin Binger Cassady & Associates

Kevin Binger (pictured left) is a senior vice president at Cassidy & Associates, and a former long-time Congressional aide. Cassidy & Associates is one of the leading bipartisan government relations firms in Washington D.C. As advocates and strategic advisors, they educate and empower federal decision makers with the facts, insights and strategies to make well-informed decisions that will advance their clients’ business goals. For more info, visit www.cassidy.com

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 27. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_may-june_2021

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