Piling Canada

Let’s Get Political

Getting involved with local, provincial and federal government can help steer the change that impacts your business
Written by Melissa Campeau
December 2019

Getting involved with local, provincial and federal government can help steer the change that impacts your business

By Melissa Campeau

When you consider a deep foundations contractor’s long list of responsibilities, political activism doesn’t usually spring to mind – but business owners who ignore government affairs do so at their own risk.

That’s the view of Marty Fiorentino, president of The Fiorentino Group, one of the largest government affairs and business development firms in the state of Florida. Fiorentino is speaking from experience: His firm provides government relations expertise to some of the biggest companies in the world, and he’s also active in local, state and national politics.

When you begin to unpack how businesses run, it becomes clear that taxes, regulations, trade, employment laws and all of these government-generated measures have a huge impact on your company. That’s the case whether you plan to get involved in politics or not.

“A recent survey of CEOs found they felt that one of the top threats to their business was government – particularly government intrusion and regulation,” said Fiorentino. “Those regulations can have quite a negative impact on their bottom line, how they run their business, their market and how they interact with their own employees.”

The best thing a business owner can do to combat a threat is take action.

“It’s important not only to stay aware of and on top of regulations, but to also be part of the process and part of the policy discussions,” said Fiorentino. “You can let all those forces impact you or you can take action. You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”

Impact at every level

Business can be affected by government policy at every level. At the local level, for example, bylaws concerning when a city might impose noise restrictions can dictate schedules, timelines and budgets.

“What if the local government said no noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.?” he asked. “That timing might seem logical and reasonable. But what if they expand it to 4 p.m. and 9 a.m.? Then things start to get different. It affects timing, it affects the business model, it affects cost. That’s a simple example that shows that even at the local level, pile driving can be affected.”

At the state or provincial level, said Fiorentino, “There are employment issues, wage rates, tax implications – all kinds of issues at this level that could impact businesses of all kinds.”

And then at the national level, Fiorentino says taxes are one of the biggest implications of regulations.

“For example, there’s the transition or sale of one company to another, or a merger of one company with another or an acquisition. Tax laws around these could negatively impact the transactions.”

Regulations around trade can have a big impact on business as well. He points to the current situation between the U.S. and China as one high-profile example.

“If your equipment becomes expensive – or if it’s suddenly non-existent because you used to purchase it overseas – that’s going to be disruptive,” said Fiorentino. “Or, it might be that [you were] selling equipment overseas and now you’re not allowed to.” Those regulations can cause anything from a headache to a nosediving bottom line.

The upsides of getting involved

The most successful companies tend to be well aware of the importance of getting involved in politics and they invest the time and effort to create a strategy to get the change (or status quo) they’re after.

“There’s a reason Amazon, GE and some of the largest companies in the world have Washington offices, and government relations departments at the federal, state and local levels,” said Fiorentino. “These companies recognize the importance [of] participating in the government process because of the negative impact it could have on their companies if they don’t.”

He holds Uber up as an example of a company that’s used political engagement to its advantage.

“In most local communities and U.S. states, their business model was not allowed. But city by city, state by state the company was able to rewrite those laws so they were beneficial to the company,” said Fiorentino. It took widespread diligence on a micro level to help them grow the business on a global scale. “But to get that growth, they had to change local ordinances and state law so they could operate the way they do today.”

On the other hand, he says, some industries miss an opportunity to influence policy. He points to the pharmaceutical industry as one example.

“I’m sure there are reasons certain drugs are very expensive,” said Fiorentino. Although, if that’s the case, it’s not a sentiment widely understood across the U.S. “You have to tell a story about why you feel your position is correct.” That needs to be shared with customers, employees and all stakeholders. “And then you can tell that story to an elected official.”

Side benefits of involvement

“Becoming active in the government process can be a marketing tool,” said Fiorentino. That means developing relationships with people. “Business owners involved in the government relations process are active in their communities. They want to know who their representatives are and who their senators are, who people are in their capital cities. That puts them in touch with other like-minded people who also have businesses.” That, he says, opens up opportunities to participate and engage with other businesses who are active at the various levels of government.

Can you be “too political?”

Supporting particular politicians and regulations may seem like falling in line with one political party over another. Fiorentino doesn’t see that as a problem, necessarily. There’s nothing to fear when it comes to taking a political stand, he says, as long as you clearly articulate your story.

“The owner of XYZ Company may be a fervent democrat or republican or whatever, but if they’re a smart business person, they’ll ask, ‘What are the business objectives that are good for my business, good for my employees, good for my community, and how do I look at the politics around that?’” He adds that businesses will want to support the politicians and issues that are best for their business, employees and community, and allow them to prosper and thrive.

Employees, too, need to be engaged in the process.

“They should know about issues that are important to the company, since those issues are also important to them. That’s true of shareholders and customers, as well,” said Fiorentino. “If issues lean one way or another in terms of a political party, then so be it.”

Rules of engagement

So how should business owners take those first steps to political engagement?

“First, it’s important to get to know elected officials so they know who you are,” said Fiorentino. “To the extent you can meet them face to face, that’s important.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily require a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. or Ottawa.

“All politics are local,” said Fiorentino. “Politicians come back to their districts, their hometowns, all the time. Meet them there. All politics start at home. That’s a good time to meet them because they don’t have the same pressures they might have when they’re in session.”

Beyond that he suggests writing letters, making phone calls and joining a local action committee.

“Meet and support the candidates that are going to support you.”

As Fiorentino says, the pace of change is faster than ever.

“Change is going to happen. It can either happen in a way that’s detrimental to you or in a way that allows you to acclimate and benefit from it, and that takes participating in it.”

The key, he says, is to get ahead of the curve.

“It’s too late to try to act when something is impacting your company – to rush and try to go get some help politically – because people don’t know you and they don’t trust you. You need to build trust with your elected officials. Participate in the process and make your friends there – before you need them.” 

This article originally appeared in PileDriver and is reprinted here with permission. 🍁

Category: Business

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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