JOLT Act Now Has More Support in Congress After Exhibitions Day

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – Another dozen members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors of the JOLT Act following a day of blanket lobbying on Capitol Hill by nearly 100 representatives of the trade show industry earlier this month.

Although the spurt of support was no guarantee that the JOLT (Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel) Act would make it out of the congressional legislative mill any time soon, David DuBois, CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, said it was a good sign that the June 16-17 Exhibitions Day campaign was paying off.

“There is no scientific way to verify that, but it is safe to assume that some of them (new co-sponsors) were the result of our efforts,” DuBois told Trade Show Executive (TSE), which was part of the delegation.

The Exhibitions Day participants also urged Congress to expand the Visa Waiver Program, renew Brand USA’s overseas marketing program, and ease the clampdown on federal workers attending trade shows, conferences and other events.

“After 9/11, it became clear that policies in Washington can have a detrimental impact on trade shows, so it is wise for industry leaders to take a pro-active role with Congress and the federal government,” said Darlene Gudea, president of Trade Show Executive Media Group and one of the participants in Exhibitions Day. “Our senators and representatives need to hear the other side of the story,” she said. Gudea urged every executive to pitch in next year to make their voices heard to influence policies that insure the growth of the exposition industry and the economic strength of the U.S.

The JOLT Act is a package of initiatives aimed at speeding up the often glacial pace of securing travel visas for overseas executives so they may be able to attend trade shows in the U.S. The measure was pitched on Exhibitions Day as a “no brainer” that would only benefit the U.S. by bringing in more buyers with expense accounts to look over American-made products and services.

The JOLT Act has passed the Senate, but has the misfortune in the House of being lumped into the wider and controversial immigration reform debate. Despite having 162 co-sponsors (co-sponsoring is a gesture of support for a bill) from both parties in both houses, the act itself is currently stuck in a House subcommittee on border security chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Gowdy is not among the JOLT Act co-sponsors, and was recently named chairman of the high-profile special committee formed to investigate the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The threat of the JOLT Act and other desirable legislation becoming hopelessly bogged down in the Beltway was a driving factor behind the launch of Exhibitions Day. The message carried up to Capitol Hill was basically don’t let “win- win” measures that support trade shows get lost in the shuffle.

HERALDED AS ONE OF IAEE’S MOST SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

“I think Exhibitions Day is one of the most significant achievements for IAEE and the industry in the last few years,” said Vincent Polito, president and CEO of VPI. “This was a good start and has provided a good foundation for next steps.”

The planning for Exhibitions Day was the work of IAEE and five other industry associations: The Society of Independent Show Organizers; Center for Exhibition Industry Research; International Association of Venue Managers; Exhibitions Services & Contractors Association; Exhibit Designers & Producers Association, and the U.S. Travel Association.

Industry representatives spread out around the Capitol Hill office complex on a typical steamy Summer day in the District, paying quick visits to the offices of senators and members of the House of Representatives representing their home states and districts. The “elevator” pitches were laid out to the lawmakers or to staff members of varying ranks. And the message was that support for conventions and trade shows paid great dividends with a minimum of taxpayer funding.

The delegates received a thorough briefing the day before on the workings of industry lobbying pushes, which take place every day in Washington. Organizers of the event ran down the office protocols, dress code and the major points to be made.

“It was all well-choreographed in advance from the moment we arrived at IAEE’s Exhibitions Day to the time Richard Einhorn of Production Transport got us on the shuttle bus to the final meetings of the day, when we all had our presentations down pat,” said Hil Anderson, TSE senior editor.

The day included a full but well-planned schedule that for many participants ran into late afternoon. It was a rare encounter with officials in Washington for many participants who have more experience with corporate America.

“We typically see considerable support for the venues we manage and the exhibitions we host by local elected officials,” said Gregg Caren, executive vice president, convention & exhibition centers for SMG. “Equally important – if not more so – is that our national leaders understand that the policies they set, or fail to set, can have even greater implications on our industry, international exhibitor and attendee participation, and the revenues and taxes they can generate.”

Rob Bergeron, executive director & CEO of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP), said Exhibitions Day was a sterling opportunity for his membership to personally urge Congress to not overreact when curbing spending on meetings and travel. “Several SGMP members attended these meetings and SGMP survey data was used to communicate with key audiences on Capitol Hill,” he said. “Playing a role in Exhibitions Day was another example of SGMP continually working to ensure that a clear voice in support of government meetings is heard and understood.

Exhibitions Day was also meant to be a trial run for annual events in which the industry conducts some face-to-face networking with their congressmen and women. So, if the JOLT Act fails to make it this year, just wait until next year.

“All of the Exhibitions Day co-sponsors were thrilled with our first year’s efforts,” said DuBois. “They are looking forward to working on the 2015 program at the appropriate time.”

Reach David DuBois at (972) 687-9204 or ddubois@iaee.com; Gregg Caren at (610) 729-7922 or gcaren@smgworld.com; Vinnie Polito at (203) 500-1586 or vpolito@vpelevate.com; Rob Bergeron at (703) 566-3630 or rob.bergeron@sgmp.org