Why should your business care about government relations?

Avaly Scarpelli

There are short- & long-term objectives to be achieved with a good government relationship strategy

The average citizen gets worked up every four years about the political scene in our country – namely the Presidential election hoopla. What matters more to our businesses, however, is what is going on in Washington State, not Washington D.C., and with our local elected officials – not the President.

State and local elected officials are in control of the regulatory environment that governs all of our day-to-day business. Fostering positive relationships really does pay off. Trying to impact federal politics often seems like a daunting task. However, locally, you can voice your concern to people that live in our community with us. Most elected officials really do care and respect those that take the time to seek them out.

For the business community, there are short- and long-term objectives to be achieved with a good government relationship strategy.

The first (short-term) goal for businesses of any size and stature in our community is to get to know the players. At the end of the day, like in every other aspect of business, it comes down to relationships; first impressions do matter. Seek a conversation without having a specific agenda in mind. Elected officials are real people and they want to know they can trust you and the credibility of the information you share.

An ongoing government relations strategy is a lot like tending a garden: It takes mindfulness, planning and attention. Address weeds as they come and clear them up! With some care given, you will realize the fruit.

This does not mean that you will “win” 100 percent of the time, or even garner the outcome you desire on 50 percent of your requests. But, by creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your elected representatives, you will be heard; you will garner respect. This standing can pay dividends on the next issue.

From the long-term perspective, as you plant more seeds and foster positive relationships along the way, your ability to be heard grows. In any industry, whether its home-building, technology, hospitality or manufacturing, the more engaged the collective body is the greater the influence that group has before elected officials. This is the underlying strength of groups like the Building Industry Association, the Washington Restaurant Association and the Association of Washington Business.

These groups stream hundreds and thousands of voices into coordinated messages that carry weight. Associations are about the collective, and we provide a powerful way for businesses of any size to gain traction for their legislative issues. Associations can be a particularly good advantage for small-to-medium sized businesses that don’t have the budget for in-house lobbyists and political advisors.

Every year the Building Industry Association’s political action group (Building Industry Group) hosts a Legislative Review Luncheon with the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. The lawmakers that attend this event have shared these tips for meaningful government relations engagement:

Speak with one voice. If a collective body can coordinate a single message it carries more weight than a few individuals going it alone.

Engage your legislators through their kitchen cabinets. They like to hear from constituents and engaging with them through their events can be very productive.

When sending in comments on an issue use a handwritten or non-form letter. It isn’t necessarily the volume that gets their attention, but rather those that take the time to craft an individual letter with independent thoughts.

If you have an issue/idea, get to work on it before session starts. Summer or fall is the best time.

Call ahead for office time. If you are going to be in Olympia, call ahead and try to schedule a few minutes of time with your legislator in their office to foster those relationships!

We are so fortunate to have very engaged and caring elected officials working on our behalf in Clark County. And, at the risk of getting philosophical, we have the profound advantage of living in a democracy where we have the unique ability to participate in the process. Take advantage of the opportunities this affords your business. And, of course, I encourage you to harness the collective power of a business association representing your particular industry. It will be the best business investment you can make.

Avaly Scarpelli, Executive Director for the Building Industry Association of Clark County. She can be reached at avaly@biaofclarkcounty.org.