The opportunity to provide a united voice for the industry — and especially for small businesses — drew more than 90 individuals to Capitol Hill in Washington, District of Columbia, for the annual Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) Congressional Fly-In. Attendees represented dozens of HVACR distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers, and manufacturer’s representatives from across the country.

As the organization’s grassroots advocacy event, the Congressional Fly-In gave HARDI members a chance to speak directly to congressional representatives about the legislative and regulatory issues impacting their businesses. And having a voice, attendees agreed, is more important now than ever before.

“If we’re not involved in the legislative process, and if we don’t voice our concerns, we don’t have any right to complain if we don’t like the outcome,” said event attendee Ruth Ann Davis, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Williams Furnace Co.

Boots on the Ground

As in previous years, the two-day Congressional Fly-In featured an afternoon legislative briefing, an evening networking reception for HARDI members, and a full day of individual appointments with members of Congress and/or their staff members on Capitol Hill.

While again inviting author, former lobbyist, and Advocacy Associates founder Stephanie Vance to help prepare attendees for their Congressional visits, HARDI took a slightly different approach to its legislative briefing this year by bringing in several additional speakers, including U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, who spoke about the Marketplace Fairness Act (HR 684/S 336) that would compel online retailers to collect sales tax at the time of purchase.

“This is about leveling the playing field,” Womack said. “This is really, really important stuff … because I believe in my heart that if we don’t do this now … we may see the window closed on this opportunity, and only under major duress will we see this opportunity come back.”

Other speakers included Congressional staffers and lobbyists as well as U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who spoke about tax reform, the importance of energy-efficiency legislation, and the burden the Affordable Care Act places on many small businesses. Gardner also commended HARDI for its advocacy efforts, saying, “Your voice is being carried into the halls of Congress as we work on tax reform.”

Jon Melchi, HARDI’s director of government affairs, also briefed attendees on key issues like the 179D tax provision, possible repeal of the LIFO (last-in, first-out) method of accounting, estate tax reform, the Affordable Care Act, and several other issues. HARDI members also gave a standing ovation to Dan Epstein from Cause of Action, the nonprofit government accountability organization that represented HARDI in the recent regional standards lawsuit.

HARDI executive vice president and COO Talbot Gee said bringing in additional speakers, especially lobbyists or members of Congress, shows HARDI members that the organization is a real contender on Capitol Hill.

“The experts Jon [Melchi] lined up were a great addition. It brought a different point of view and credibility to the event,” Gee said. “We’re pleased to be able to show our members the relationships we have with our elected officials.”

The Value of Advocacy

Congressional Fly-In attendees agreed the event provided a unique and valuable opportunity to speak face-to-face with legislators and let them know exactly how certain pieces of legislation affect HVACR businesses — for better or worse.

“It’s a great opportunity to get involved on the federal level” and to develop a relationship with the staffers, said Mike Healy, president and CEO, Superior Equipment Sales Inc. “This is one of the better events HARDI puts on.”

Healy’s 14-year-old son, Michael Healy, also tagged along with his father to take it all in and “see how it works and what laws and bills affect my dad’s work.” He said he plans to work for Superior Equipment Sales over the summer and hopes to work his way up from the bottom. “I want to be where my dad is someday,” he said.

Larry Plocheck, president, Coastal HVAC Supply, said he is concerned about the effect the Affordable Care Act and estate tax might have on his business. “I like the fact that we get to talk to our elected officials,” he said, adding that the briefings were “helpful.”

Davis said that, even when visiting elected officials who do not share the same point of view on some of the issues, it is still possible to have a productive interaction. “With [U.S. Sens. Dianne] Feinstein and [Barbara] Boxer, we found a common-ground interest and built from that,” she explained. “I believe both of them will visit our office for our 100th anniversary next year.”

Oscar Lopez, vice president of sales, J.B. Industries Inc., said it is important to attend events like this “so that we can try to address any concerns or potentially change their mind on an issue.” He added, “It’s very enlightening to learn not only how Washington works, but to become more educated on the issues important to us.”

While David Nussdorfer, CEO, APCO Inc., said it can be “hard to get very far” in just one office visit, he still found the briefing useful and sees the value of the congressional visits. Mike Nussdorfer, owner, APCO Inc., said it’s “great to see the passion some of the Congressmen have — it gives me hope that something will be done.”

“I didn’t realize how much lobbying goes on,” said Mike Bell, Johnstone Supply. “It makes a huge difference. It brings awareness to our industry.”

Greg Grimme, Johnstone Supply, said it seemed like there was more passion and movement for change this year than at previous events. “With us and our elected officials, it seems like legislators are more supportive this year,” he added.

Besides the hotel, Grimme joked, there is nothing much he would change about the Congressional Fly-In next year. He also emphasized the importance of contacting and following up with your elected officials.

“The more engaged you are, and the more you are able to communicate with them, the more you increase the odds of getting a common-sense resolution,” Grimme said. “It increases the chances of decisions favorable to our industry. It’s communication 101.”

SIDEBAR: Small Business Champions

During the Congressional Fly-In, HARDI honored U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, presenting them each with a HARDI Small Business Champion Award. The award is given to elected officials who promote and protect the interests of small businesses.

Rick and Glenys Hull, owners of Johnstone Supply, said the selection of Rep. Noem for the Small Business Champion Award was an easy decision for HARDI.

“Congresswoman Noem has consistently shown through her votes and the bills she sponsors that she understands the plight of small businesses like ours in dealing with issues like the estate tax, increasingly burdensome regulations, and an overly complicated tax code,” Rick Hull said.

“Kristi knows that actions speak louder than words, and she has been proactive in visiting businesses like ours and listening to the concerns of small businesses throughout South Dakota,” Glenys Hull said. “She is a true voice for job creators in Congress.”

Talbot Gee, executive vice president and COO, HARDI, praised both Gardner and Noem for their efforts. “There is perhaps not a more eloquent and honest speaker on the subject of the estate tax than Congresswoman Noem. For our members, this [estate tax] has been a major issue to tackle, and we are grateful to have Representative Noem leading the charge on this and many other issues that impact business owners in South Dakota and across our nation,” he said.

Gee said Gardner “has talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to working across the aisle to develop smart policies regarding energy and natural resources.” He added that Gardner “understands the importance of fixing our broken tax code so businesses can continue to invest and workers can take home a little more of their hard earned money.”

“At a time when Americans are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington, Cory Gardner stands out as someone who cares first and foremost about delivering for the people of Colorado and small businesses across this country,” said Royce Henderson, president, HARDI.

“I’m honored to accept the Small Business Champion Award,” Gardner said. “HARDI has done great work advocating for their companies, most of which are small businesses who are struggling under the weight of overly burdensome regulations from this administration. I look forward to continuing my work with HARDI to keep America’s small businesses thriving.”

Noem recognizes that small businesses are the engines of our economy. “They drive innovation and invention. They employ us and our families, and they strengthen our communities. I am committed to being an advocate for policies that allow for the job creation and innovation that is inspired by small businesses and am truly honored to receive the HARDI Small Business Champion Award.”

Publication date: 6/23/2014 

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