The Final DC Travelogue

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Editor’s Note:  Members of the Salt Lake Chamber are visiting Washington, D.C., this week to interact with and learn from key thought leaders in our nation’s capital. Vice President for Business and Community Relations Ryan Evans is writing a three-day travelogue to share activities with other Chamber members. Learn more about the Chamber’s DC visit at www.slchamber.com/dc.

The final day of meetings in DC was a shortened day for travel purposes, but the content packed into it was outstanding.

Over breakfast, Senator Orrin Hatch spent time interacting with the group. He chose not to give a formal presentation but rather spend time with each person getting to know them and their company a bit better. Ultimately, Senator Hatch was gracious enough to talk a bit about the political landscape in DC, the fiscal cliff, his role on the Finance Committee, the aerospace industry and the elections.

Our first actual presenter of the day was William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard and a regular political commentator on the Fox News Channel. Kristol engaged the group with a blunt discussion on partisanship, lack of action in DC, the elections and the economy. He maintains that instability is a huge issue, both at home and around the world and makes governing that much harder for politicians right now. The slow recovery of the economy and the attitude to wait for action on policy issues until after the election is a growing concern amongst Americans. He left us with a comment that was a breath of fresh air coming from a Washington analyst. He said, “I’m constantly impressed how strong our country is. We’ve overcome great adversity and challenges over the last several years where many others may have let conditions spiral out of control.”

The group then heard from Bruce Josten, executive vice president for Government Affairs, the second ranking officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the organization’s senior government and political affairs executive. Bruce talked about the current issues on the hill, including partisan politics, sequestration, Medicare reform, the economy and the how the elections will impact business. Josten commented that there is more polarization in DC now than there ever has been in his lifetime. The two parties are missing the fact that the views of Americans in general are as divided and polarized as Congress is, yet the middle becomes more and more disenfranchised.

The final speaker of the trip was former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. Leavitt, the chairman of Leavitt Partners and is also heading up Gov. Mitt Romney’s Readiness Project. Leavitt gave the group an intimate look at the preparations that go into planning a new administration. We all marveled at the thought that a Utahn was leading this effort. Each person in our group felt honored to have had him speak with us given the workload on his plate. The respect of our delegation for this man was tremendous and a statement made by one of our business leaders sums up the feeling in the room very well, “Gov. Leavitt is a great source of pride for Utahns and we were very fortunate to have him meet with us today.”

All in all, our annual Washington DC trip was a great experience. Many in our group of business leaders said this was the best trip they had been on with the Chamber, pledging that they will be back again next year. The meetings, tours, and meals were great but without a doubt, the relationships made and developed while on this trip were the most important and lasting benefit.

DC Travelogue: An unexpected guest…

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Editor’s Note:  Members of the Salt Lake Chamber are visiting Washington, D.C., this week to interact with and learn from key thought leaders in our nation’s capital. Vice President for Business and Community Relations Ryan Evans is writing a three-day travelogue to share activities with other Chamber members. Learn more about the Chamber’s DC visit at www.slchamber.com/dc.

 

The Salt Lake Chamber’s DC Delegation was the recipient of a welcome surprise for our dinner meeting on Monday. The group traveled to Hillsdale College to hear from Sen. Mike Lee on the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. Rather than hear a talk on the constitution from Sen. Lee, we were honored to have Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas give his perspective on the Constitution and its importance to our country, going so far as to say that he felt we may have lost our country if not for the ratification of this great document. He challenged the group to take this anniversary of the Constitution as an opportunity to not talk about what it should say, but what it does say. He commented, “… many people tell me that they know their Constitutional rights, but rarely do you hear someone say that they’ve actually read the Constitution.”

Following dinner, Sen. Lee led the group in a game of “Constitutional Jeopardy,” which proved to be a fun way to learn more about the Constitution… and to say it was competitive between teams to win would be an understatement. It’s not very often that one gets to hear, in an intimate setting, from a Supreme Court Justice, but even more rare to play a board game with a justice and a United States Senator.

A big thank you to Sen. Lee and his staff for a wonderful evening.

Tuesday morning’s meetings began as the group first heard from Dee Allsop, Ph.D. of Heart + Mind Strategies talking about why values matter when pitching your product, whether it’s an actual product, a service or your platform as a politician. When looking at the upcoming presidential elections right now, Allsop told our delegation the three most important things to voters are jobs, reducing the deficit and health care. Candidates need to not only address those issues, but appeal to the values Americans hold surrounding these issues. An example from the private sector would be the “Got Milk” campaign. While catchy and well known, that phrase didn’t help sell any more milk until paired with the health benefits of milk.

The second speaker of the day was Professor Michael Czinkota, who teaches international business and trade at Georgetown’s graduate school of business. (Above is a video introduction of Professor Czinkota by Lew Cramer, World Trade Center Utah president & CEO.) Czinkota spoke to the group about new policy issues in international business. Specifically, he discussed challenges facing U.S. companies, a changing paradigm for international trade and key policy emphases.

At lunch, the group engaged in an active conversation with the three-term, former governor of Michigan, John Engler. Engler is the current president of the Business Roundtable, a think tank of chief executive officers. Engler pointed out that a consensus of CEOs feel the recovery is moving too slowly and that unpredictability in Washington is hard on business. Business just needs to know what field they are playing on and they will succeed. Engler took questions regarding the lack of action in the nation’s capital, the auto bailout, the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, pension reform, job creation at the state level and Sarbanes Oxley.

After lunch and the conversation with Gov. Engler, the group had the choice of two different optional tours- Eastern Market or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Those that went to the bureau saw the expression “Show me the money!” in action… literally hundreds of millions of dollars were being printed and on display as we toured the facility.

The evening’s activities include dinner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse and an evening tour of the Capitol with Congressman Rob Bishop.

All of these experiences, combined with the business friendships enriched by time spent together, make the Salt Lake Chamber’s DC trip an extraordinary experience.

DC Travelogue for September 17, 2012

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Editor’s Note:  Members of the Salt Lake Chamber are visiting Washington, D.C., this week to interact with and learn from key thought leaders in our nation’s capital. Vice President for Business and Community Relations Ryan Evans is writing a three-day travelogue to share activities with other Chamber members. Learn more about the Chamber’s DC visit at www.slchamber.com/dc.

More than 50 business leaders gathered inside the auditorium of the Grand Hyatt Washington this morning to kick off the first day of meetings for the Chamber’s annual Washington DC Trip.  Amongst our delegation is the current chair of the board of governors, Ray Pickup of Worker’s Compensation Fund, and four past chairs: Dave Golden, Wells Fargo; Scott Parson, Staker Parson; Chris Redgrave, Zions Bank; and Mark Howell, America West Bank.

The day started with a presentation from David Merritt, Managing Director of Leavitt Partners. Merritt described the future of health care in America and the upcoming elections. With 50 days left, the presidential election is very close and Republicans only need to pick up four seats to win control of the Senate. Clearly, there is a lot riding on November’s elections.  According to Merritt, if we end up with a Democrat-controlled Senate and/or President Obama is re-elected, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will continue and accelerate.  Should Republicans win the Senate and Romney wins the Oval Office, the future of health care in America will look dramatically different.

The group then toured the DC London Social Media War Room created by NUVI, a Utah-based company.  This multimedia technology room monitors 3,000 social media conversations per second.  DC London uses this tracking technology to help its clients develop a social media strategy and interact with social media conversations around the world.

Gov. Gary Herbert honored the group with a visit for lunch back at the Grand Hyatt.  Utah’s 17th governor discussed the role of government, what he thinks is working well in Utah and the impact of Washington and the upcoming elections on the state.  The group engaged the governor with questions about water conservation, education, the downgrade of America’s credit rating, energy development in Utah, and the role of post-performance tax credits and grants in Utah’s economic development efforts.

After an afternoon of personal business meetings or an optional group activity to take a bike tour of the DC monuments and attractions, the group will reconvene this evening for dinner at Hillsdale College, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, for a presentation by Sen. Mike Lee on the 225th Anniversary of the Constitution.

Utah business leaders visit Gettysburg battlefield

Monday, September 17th, 2012

The Salt Lake Chamber kicked off its annual DC trip with a visit to Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Led, in part, by Civil War aficionado and Wasatch Electric business leader Tim Homer, Utah business leaders were treated to a narrated tour of this sacred ground.

“This was a deeply moving visit,” said Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie. “The beautiful sunny day and crisp fall weather could not disguise the brutal battle that took place here and the many lives that were lost. The sacrifice and ultimate resolution continues to bless the American people today.”

Business leaders visited the $103 million National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center. Built in 2008, the facility features 22,000 square feet of visitor space, including the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama.

Gettysburg is widely recognized as a turning point in the Civil War. The lessons learned from a visit can be a turning point in how we live our lives as well.

Business leaders get insight on pathways to tax reform

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

An overhaul of the federal tax system has been a frequently discussed topic on the heels of the debt super-committee and the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Today, members of the Salt Lake Chamber got some details on how that could work from Jim Gould (above, right) and Tucker Shumack of Capitol Counsel.

They pointed out the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent, nine percent higher than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rate. This rate incentivizes businesses to set-up shop outside the U.S. By setting the rate too high, the U.S. costs itself any piece of the pie.

Another concern is too many Americans have become exempt from paying taxes. In 1985, 20 percent of Americans paid no income tax. By 2010, the number jumped to nearly 50 percent.

Gould shared his insight on the debt super-committee. He’s concerned that the eventual proposal will get an up or down vote on the House floor without going through the normal amendment process.

“Democrats don’t want to talk about spending cuts without discussing tax increases and republicans don’t wan to talk about tax increases,“ said Gould. “I don’t know how they bridge that gap.”

A number of business leaders expressed their concern about the upcoming debate over the super-committee’s proposal—particularly with the timing set for the holidays, a key time for the economy.

Shumack also dicussed the proposed American Jobs Act, the president’s proposal to create jobs. He says it is directly tied to the work of the super-committee

“Will the entire thing be passed as is? No way,” said Shumack. “But parts and pieces of it will get done. Whether they can get together on how to pay for it is another question.”

Business leaders get insight from former Medicaid and Medicare administrator

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Containing rising health care costs was a major topic for the 57 business leaders who heard from Kerry Weems, senior vice president and general manager with Vangent, Inc. Mr. Weems has held a number of high-level positions in the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Half of the American workforce won’t pay income tax this year,” said Weems. “Dependency on government is at record levels. We have voted ourselves rich.”

Businesses are concerned with the uncertainty created by massive changes in the nation’s health care laws with many expecting health care costs to continue rising.

“It’s a roller coaster that only goes one way,” said Weems.

He says there are two ways to control health care costs:

First, stop purchasing health care “by the yard” with no linkage between what consumers receive from their provider and what they pay providers. And second, change the incentives. Under the current system, a patient has a very low stake in the value proposition.

“Having more skin in the game, makes a difference,” said Weems. “If we are paying, as individuals, our full co-payments and full premiums, that’s a game changer.”

Weems says we have “voted ourselves rich.” He says Americans demand the best health care but have voted for tax policy that doesn’t fund it.

The session concluded with Weems reading from a letter from his son who is serving in the Peace Corps and assigned to Armenia. In memorable commentary, the younger Weems reflected on the greatness of America. It was a poignant reminder to Utah business leaders of our ability as Americans to tackle complicated issues like health care.

Immigration panel discusses road to comprehensive reform

Monday, September 12th, 2011

A functioning immigration policy that supplies the workers the American economy needs would create jobs and boost the slumping economy.  That’s the message Utah business leaders heard today from a group of immigration policy experts. The panel discussion was part of the Chamber’s four-day visit to the nation’s capital in an effort to advance The Utah Jobs Agenda.

“If I’m an immigrant, I don’t like President Obama” said Chuck Kuck, a Georgia-based immigration attorney. “He has done more than any president to secure the border and our border has never been more secure. The question is, when will we allow ourselves to take advantage of the $40-50 billion of economic stimulus we would have each year by bringing people out of the shadows.”

E-Verify was a hot topic among business leaders. The interest is in the cost, both in money and time, as well as accuracy.

“If you are going to ask businesses to be immigration agents, that is going to have a bottom line, financial impact,” said Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum.

“The only way you can be certain your workers are legal is to have Congress pass immigration reform,” said Kuck.

The panelists expressed their admiration and appreciation for The Utah Compact, a document supported by the Salt Lake Chamber. They say it has changed the dialogue across the nation on the immigration issue.

“We need to create a new consensus on what immigrants mean to America,” said Noorani. “We are thrilled to be working with the Chamber and the Utah attorney general on this important issue.”

Former senators meet with business leaders, discuss DC gridlock

Monday, September 12th, 2011

The Salt Lake Chamber kicked off its four-day trip to Washington, D.C. with a look at the debt, divided government and gridlock. Former U.S. senators Byron Dorgan (D-South Dakota, above, left) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) shared their insights on what can be done to address the issues facing the nation.

“This is a moment of opportunity when both parties can come together,” said Sen. Bennett. “Mandatory spending is two-thirds of the federal budget. We have a president who is willing to engage on entitlements and we need a Republican party that is willing to take him up on it.”

The group of 57 business leaders asked about the budget super committee.

“It is not a good way to legislate,” said Sen. Dorgan. “I find it very unlikely they will do what is necessary for the country.”

“I’m only slightly more optimistic than Byron,” said Sen. Bennett.

That uncertainty has negative effects on the national economy, keeping business from investing and creating jobs. Even after coming to an agreement on some cuts during the first debt debate, the U.S. had its credit downgraded by Standard & Poor’s and saw significant volatility in the market.

Dodd-Frank, which attacks debit card fees and overdraft fees has had an impact on the banking community. Banking leaders on the trip asked the senators to comment on the legislation.

“After the election, I would think Dodd-Frank will be revisited,” said Sen. Bennett, noting the legislation call for 328 new regulations.

“If you are too big to fail, you’re just too damn big,” said Sen. Dorgan. “When it comes to the big financial institutions in this country we need effective regulations, not less.

Sen. Dorgan said compromise is a, “four-letter word,” in Washington. Americans, including business leaders, are tired of the lack of cooperation in the nation’s capital.

“Our democracy is as strong as the people who are willing to stand up and make choices,” said Sen. Dorgan. “If every vote goes against your constituents, you won’t be very long. If you don’t have the strength and passion to go to your constituents and tell them why you voted the way you did, you shouldn’t be in public office.”