Posts Tagged ‘state government relations’

Getting to Yes

May 1, 2014

By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President and Heather Williams, Vice President

Groups meetings and hospitality events present a myriad of opportunities to build relationships. You may decide to use such an occasion to invite a Governor or cabinet-level official to visit your facility, office or plant. That can be the brass ring for a government affairs manager and an excellent way to showcase your presence in, and contribution to, the state or local community.

But turning a casual acceptance of your invitation into an actual visit can be challenging. Yes, the governor agreed to visit your facility during a reception but that commitment must be confirmed. Governors (and other electeds) make a lot of well-intended commitments; many are over-subscribed by the very nature of the job and they are frequently over-scheduled by earnest, equally-busy staff.

Now the hard work begins for you. What you need is a plan to make this happen.

Identify Staff Contact

Your first step is to identify the right staff to confirm this site visit, whether that is the governor’s scheduler or chief of staff. It is important to recognize that you will probably need to extend your invitation again to the governor’s staff. This usually means justifying the trip in some more detail – number of jobs, revenue or tax contribution to the local or state economy, its location in the state and how that might factor into larger state economic development plans.

Meeting with these senior staff can be especially helpful in terms of beginning to advance the visit. This site visit might be important to your program or organization but it has to make sense for the governor’s office too. This can be a large time investment for a governor and staff, so begin by working around their schedule and priorities – coordinate the site visit with other travel plans, a prospective expansion announcement, significant changes to your facility or a community initiative or process change that aligns with the governor’s priorities (i.e, a new sustainability initiative, a new workforce training plan, community partnership or contribution, etc.). The point is, find something to highlight that is important to the governor or his administration.

Formal Invitation

Prepare a formal invitation for the site visit. While it is likely that staff will request this from you, do not overlook it. Many governors’ offices need this formality to start the calendar process. Some even have online forms that must be completed as part of the routine process. Ensure that you send the invitation to BOTH the governor and appropriate scheduling staff.

Detailed Briefing and Logistics

Be prepared to provide the staff with background briefing materials about the site and the visit logistics. Similar to the information you need to provide staff to start the process, you should prepare information about the facility, its location, number of employees, job types and skill level, taxes paid, contribution to local economy, average salaries and consider including the names of those employees who might be participating in the visit (if they are presenting in any way). And make no assumptions that the governor or his troopers know where your facility is located. Always share detailed directions.

Company Representation

Determine who from your company will participate and what their responsibilities will be. It is important that facility staff are included in the tour – local messaging always resonates. The presentation from non-local corporate executives may not be nearly as powerful as those staff who work at the site and live in the local community. Ask the governor’s staff whom he/she prefers to meet with on such visits and ensure they are a part of the conversation. No one can describe the work being performed better than those actually doing the work. And do not forget to ask the local management and employees if anyone personally knows the governor – it happens. A personal relationship goes a long way in ensuring the success of a site visit.

Company Briefing

Unless your facility is visited by your senior leadership, high profile guests or elected officials on a routine basis, the employees may be slightly uneasy about interacting with a high profile public official. Brief the entire staff about the visit and provide specific guidance to those that will directly be involved in the tour. Ensure everyone is comfortable and understands their role and the overall objectives of the visit. The facility should be at its best – clean and organized and fully aware that guests will be there.

We stated earlier in this blog that you should try to shape the site visit around a governor’s priorities, but it needs to be successful for you and your organization too. Determine what constitutes success. Identify your objectives, outline key takeaways and determine who is responsible for each message point. Choreograph the discussion you want to have during the visit. Encourage employee participation but work with them in advance about what they may want to say to avoid jargon and overly technical detail. Detailing the conversation will ensure goals are met, all messages are expressed and nothing is accidently left out. And be sensitive to the governor’s schedule – be sure to complete the site visit a few minutes earlier than scheduled, unless the governor continues the conversation.

Photography and Media

Ensure a photographer is present. Do not assume that the governor or staff will bring one and be sure to share photos with them. But you should also coordinate any media outreach or media advisories with the governor’s official staff – they will have their own protocols about media and might want to control that focus of the event.

Expect the Unexpected

And finally, be prepared to answer impertinent questions that might be asked. Anticipate questions about growth plans and priorities that might affect the state. We have heard governors invite companies with an out-of-state headquarters to move their corporate offices in-state – even posed as a flip question, you or your executives should be able to answer that with a serious answer. Alternatively, you might be asked about expansion plans in another state – why didn’t you consider the governor’s home state? Again, serious answers are required here to these sometimes off the cuff questions.

Have you had a public official visit your facility recently? What can you share about your experience?

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Michael J. Behm is Senior Vice President and a Principal of Stateside Associates. During his 20 years working at Stateside Associates, Mr. Behm’s advocacy work and leadership roles in the state officials Groups have brought him to many state capitols and local governments yielding an extensive network of relationships with legislative leaders and other public officials across the 50 states.

Heather Williams is Vice President at Stateside Associates. She works to help clients manage state and local government issues. She also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.

Call to Duty: Why Groups Enlist Business to Help with Military Challenges

April 10, 2014

By Michael J. Behm, Senior Vice President

military-civilian-handshake

Paying attention to the military has become much more than a nod to patriotism for state and local officials Groups, but rather an urgent recognition that military-related challenges facing public officials, the Department of Defense (DoD) and business are converging like never before.

The drawdown from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a flood of returning veterans, massive defense cuts and the threat of a future round of BRAC base closures have created something of a perfect storm of challenges for DoD and the states and local governments which host its installations.

Over the last several years, state and local officials – through their respective Groups – have raced to create leadership-level task forces, special working groups, committees and websites to raise awareness about the military presence in their states, draw attention to incompatible growth around military installations, and focus on wide range of veterans issues.

As an active participant in many of these committees, I am frequently asked the question: If I am not an elected official with a military base in my backyard, should I care about what these military-focused committees are doing?

Business definitely thinks so.

The National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Military and Veterans Task Force has been meeting since 2008, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has created a Veterans and Military Services Committee, the National League of Cities (NLC) has a Military Communities Council, the National Governors Association (NGA) has several ongoing projects addressing veteran employment and military base sustainability, the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) has featured presentations on veteran transition and the Council of State Governments (CSG) and US Conference of Mayors (USCM) have held meetings focused on military installation and veteran issues. The “Big Seven” now meets quarterly to discuss military and veteran issues critical to state and local government.

And private sector involvement with each of these Groups’ military-related programming is growing. Military-focused committee and task force meetings have featured presentations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Our Heroes” program; Edison Electric Institute’s “Troops to Energy Jobs” Program; Walmart’s Welcome Home Commitment; and the Home Builders Institute’s training and certification of veterans for employment in the construction industry. The Groups are helping DoD and business to highlight the education, training, on-the-job experience and leadership skills that veterans bring to the civilian job market. Guiding state and local officials to interested employers, and focusing on the veteran employment challenges, have become a very high priority for the Groups over the last two years.

State and local officials Groups and businesses also recognize that finding employers is not the only challenge for recently-separated service members. Neither DoD nor state government has made it easy in the past to translate military education and training into recognized (and required) state professional certifications and licenses. With the prodding of NCSL, NGA, NACo, NLGA, and the support of organizations such as the American Trucking Associations and health professional groups, states have been enacting laws to make it easier for veterans with documented training, work experience and necessary skills to obtain professional licenses such as a CDL, EMT, LPN and PA – licensure for high demand, civilian trucking and health care jobs. In 2013 alone, legislators on NCSL’s Military and Veterans Task Force introduced bills in 16 states – that were then enacted – that ease the professional licensing requirements for skilled veterans.

The Groups are also highlighting the threats posed by uncoordinated and incompatible development and urban sprawl to the nation’s military installations and testing/training ranges and local economies. In many states, the military is among the largest industries and employers and is directly responsible for the economic health of neighboring communities by generating a steady stream of revenue and jobs. When an installation can no longer perform its intended mission – whether that’s sailing ships, flying aircraft, firing artillery, training infantry or testing new technologies – it impacts the ability to realistically train soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It also puts that “mission” at risk of being relocated or subject to a future round of BRAC.

DoD’s REPI (Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration) Program has used these Groups forums to highlight its cost-sharing partnerships with organizations as diverse as The Nature Conservancy, agri-businesses, foresters, private landowners, conservationists and state and local governments to help avoid or relieve land use conflicts near military installations. These partnerships protect the local economy, critical habitats and at the same time sustain the military presence.

Raising awareness about these problems within the Groups forums, and the benefits the military provides its neighboring communities and businesses, is paying off: Dozens of bills have been enacted since the Groups began addressing everything from compatible land use policies, property buffering, coordination with local military installations about land use changes, limiting lighting that can interfere with military training to creating open space areas around military bases – many of these land use solutions having been born out of discussions at Groups meetings. A number of states – Hawaii being a good example – have also enacted legislation or implemented executive orders intended to protect the military mission by more closely coordinating with state chambers of commerce and other statewide business entities.

Many other issues are being discussed that have a state and local government-military-business nexus, such as renewable energy siting coordination, translating military training and experience into higher-education academic credit, military-energy utility partnerships, National Guard deployments, transportation and infrastructure and Tricare changes to name just a few.

Should your business be involved in those discussions?

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Michael J. Behm is Senior Vice President and a Principal of Stateside Associates. During his 20 years working at Stateside Associates, Mr. Behm’s advocacy work and leadership roles in the state officials Groups have brought him to many state capitols and local governments yielding an extensive network of relationships with legislative leaders and other public officials across the 50 states.

Why EPA Swarmed States’ Meeting

April 8, 2014

By Mark Anderson, Esq., Senior Vice President and Sarah Hunt, Esq., Manager State Issues and Ethics Officer

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy pledged to ECOS last fall that she will “listen to the states” during her tenure at the agency’s helm. If actions speak louder than words, McCarthy underscored this message by sending 30 EPA regional and headquarters staffers to the Spring 2014 Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) meeting held March 31-April 2 at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, California. McCarthy’s EPA, in an unprecedented move, also co-sponsored the meeting.

The current commitment of McCarthy’s EPA to ECOS surpasses anything we have witnessed since we began attending ECOS meetings in 1996. As recently as 2012, EPA was all but absent at ECOS meetings, leaving state environmental regulators feeling marginalized by the federal agency and its previous administrators. Despite McCarthy’s promise last fall, EPA’s suddenly stepped-up engagement with ECOS left some states speculating that EPA was only present to promote the federal position on two new and controversial rulemakings, both Obama Administration priorities.

The federal agency recently sent its Clean Air Act 111d rule on carbon pollution standards for existing power plants to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for pre-publication review. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers also just jointly promulgated a draft rule on the definition of the Waters of the United States, a Clean Water Act rulemaking necessitated by a string of US Supreme Court cases that started with Rappanos v. United States (2006).

These two rulemakings are poised to reshape not only American environmental policy, but perhaps energy and land development policy as well. Given their significance, it is unsurprising that a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including many states, have loudly criticized both of these rules. The EPA did not reveal much about the new Clean Air Act 111d rulemaking at ECOS, but a large number of states fear the rule may result in the shuttering of numerous existing coal-fired utilities, resulting in job losses and energy cost spikes. The Waters of the United States rule, as drafted, has the potential to assert EPA jurisdiction over waters previously thought to be outside of federal regulatory authority. This rulemaking has serious implications for state water programs and land development.

At the Spring ECOS meeting, EPA staff held closed-door meetings with state regulators to discuss both of these rulemakings. The only clear outcome from these meetings is that EPA is determined to move forward with controversial aspects of both rulemakings, despite questions and concerns from several states. During the closed-door Clean Air Act 111d meeting, the EPA told states they will not use a state implementation plan (SIP) process to implement the forthcoming existing source rule, leaving states to wonder what mechanism EPA will use to enforce the rules. Interestingly, while EPA staff did discuss some details of the new 111d rule at this meeting, they did not mention to the states that the rule was complete and about to be sent to OMB that afternoon.

The limited public discussion on these important rulemakings at the conference was as unusual as EPA’s ramped-up involvement. Frank discussion of federal rulemakings in public sessions is an ECOS tradition. This time, however, the Air committee skipped over a scheduled 111d item on its public meeting agenda. There was also only one significant mention of the important water rulemaking during public sessions. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Persciape told a public session that the new Waters of the United States rule “won’t be a big change” in actual EPA policy.

EPA staff made clear their interest in reaching out to state officials at ECOS last week. The question is why. Many states quietly expressed doubt that this new dialogue will actually shape EPA policy. States welcomed this EPA engagement, but it remains to be seen whether EPA is working toward true collaborative dialogue or merely using this opportunity to inform itself about the coming opposition from some states. States will therefore be watching closely to see if EPA continues its ECOS engagement when these significant Air and Water rulemakings conclude. States will also notice if EPA listened to their concerns when the agency rolls out 111d new source final rule and the 111d existing source proposed rule later this year. If EPA has listened, it will be obvious, and a new era of state and federal collaboration will start on solid ground.

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Mark Anderson, Esq. is Senior Vice President working at Stateside Associates managing the Regulatory Services Division. He advises clients on engagement strategy and directs educational and “grasstops” campaigns directed at governors and regulatory officials. Mr. Anderson also has created issue advocacy coalitions and facilitates work group meetings of state and federal stakeholders addressing environmental issues.

Sarah E. Hunt, Esq. is Manager, State Issues and Ethics Officer at Stateside Associates. She works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues. Sarah also helps Stateside and its clients navigate lobbying ethics, comply with campaign finance laws, and develop political giving strategies. She practiced campaign finance, election law, and non-profit management with a boutique political law firm for several years before her work at Stateside Associates.