by Bob McGlincy
For the first time since 2019, the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance hosted face-to-face meetings with lawmakers in Washington DC. On June 1, Legislative Action Day 2023, industry professionals from 24 states met with Senators, Representatives, or, in most cases, members of their staff. Discussions stressed the significance and impact of business events, and focused on three specific policy issues critical to the tradeshow and experiential marketing community.
Why an Industry Day on Capitol Hill?
Do you remember the start of the pandemic? Venues shuttered. Shows cancelled. Businesses closed. People lost jobs.
This industry was one of the hardest hit. It was one of the first to close, and last to open. There was some government aid (PPP and ERTC loans for example), but not to the extent that other industries were helped. And the reason for being overlooked is simple: despite being a 100-billion-dollar industry, employing millions of people in the United States, politicians do not know about us.
If we want to be less invisible, we must make a point of being seen.
If we want our voices heard, we must speak up.
What issues were discussed?
In addition to talking about our industry, there were three main topics.
One. Visa delays. Historically, at many shows, up to thirty percent of attendees are international visitors. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, wait times for business visas can take over a year (and in some cases 500 or even 600 days). This is not an immigration issue; it is a government function issue. These visa delays will block an estimated 2.6 million business visitors this year – a loss to the economy of $7,000,000,000. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will be holding oversight hearings on this issue in June; Senator Klobuchar is working on visa legislation solutions, and is looking for bipartisan co-sponsors.
Two. Building a next-generation workforce. The vast majority of companies in this industry are small businesses. With an aging workforce already depleted by pandemic retirees, the industry faces a serious worker shortage. The ECA did not go to DC to ask for money, but rather for a reallocation of existing funds, and for support of two bi-partisan bills which would allow for Pell Grants and college savings programs to be used for shorter term job training programs, (specifically, S.141/H.R.793 and S.722/H.R.1477).
Three. Fraud. Whether it is an offer to sell lead lists to companies, or hotel rooms to attendees, scammers are stealing both money and identities. The FTC has received over 2.5 million business impersonation fraud reports since 2017. The ECA requested, and supports, Congressional oversight responsibility of the FTC, and specifically having them finalize 16 CFR Part 461 this year.
Who was there?
May is one of the busiest months in our industry, and many companies are still understaffed. Yet nearly 100 individuals made time to attend. A partial list includes:
David Adler; Nicole Bowman; Marie Browne; Russ Callahan; Ellen Campbell-Kaminski; John Catalamo; Walter Charnizon; Rob Cohen; Nicholas Codero; Nancy Drapeau; David DuBois; Brad Falberg; Fernando Fischer; Howard Givner; Tommy Goodwin; Bev Gray; Chris Griffin; Michael Guillory; Nicole Hallada; Kai Hattendorf; Mark Johnson; Julie Kagy; Jim Kelley; Jen Labruzzi; Sam Lippman; Mathew Little; Dasher Lowe; Rick McConnel; Walt McCreary; John McGeary; Bob McGlincy; Kevin McLaughlin; Mike Morrison; Laura Palker; Vincent Polito; Rochelle Richardson; Steve Riches; Damon Ross; BurcaSahmali; Joanne Sanders; Stephanie Selesnick; Dennis Smith; Robert Tarby; Mark Taylor; Danica Tormohlen; Eric Ulder; Rich Vallaster; Greg Wood; Gabrielle Weiss; and James Zacharias.
The states with the largest numbers present, were CA, FL, GA, IL, NY and NV. Industry associations represented included: EDPA, ESCA, IAEE, PCMA, SISO, and of course, ECA. Sponsors were: Lippman Connect; CNTV; CustomReg; IAEE; The Venetian; NAHB; Freeman; MGM Resorts; Omni Hotels; Visit Anaheim; Choose Chicago; and Jack Buttine.
What can we do?
Get involved. Speak up. Talk about the industry. Educate others to its importance and size. Call or write our representatives in Congress. Attend Legislative Action Day in person next year, on May 30, 2024.