After a flurry of activity in the last session of the state legislature, Minnesota manufacturers are justified in feeling a kick in the gut. A host of new laws and initiatives have created dozens of complex new requirements, imposing a significant burden on employers — particularly smaller manufacturers.
It would be easy to throw up our hands in frustration and insist policymakers just don’t understand our world. An understandable response, but I think we need to take a different approach. We need to double down on our efforts to reach out to lawmakers to give them an inside look at manufacturing.
Instead of just telling legislators what manufacturing does for their communities, we have to show them. Years ago, we started inviting elected officials to tour our client companies because many of them had not yet met their own manufacturing constituencies, and manufacturers hadn’t met their legislators.
To date, we’ve helped arrange more than 480 manufacturing tours for legislators, Congressional members and their staff, and local mayors, fellow manufacturers, and other business and economic development leaders. We continue conducting tours to this day. It’s particularly important to reach out to legislators who might seem like the least likely supporters. It’s most often the case that legislators have not yet had the opportunity to meet manufacturers and learn how valuable their companies are to the state’s economy and especially to local communities. These companies are often the best — and highest paying — employers in town.
Often, company owners and policymakers know each other from Rotary, or from church, or by attending the occasional chamber of commerce meeting. But many elected officials don’t fully understand how these same people, operating out in the industrial parks on the fringe of town, have transformed their manufacturing companies into sophisticated global players, working in modern, clean plants, and generating an increasing number of high-tech, well-paid jobs. And they often don’t understand how their votes in the legislature could create a cascade of consequences for those employers.
The point: Your elected officials should know who you are, what you produce, and your impact on the community. They need to know about the great jobs you create and the charities you support.
I’m reminded of an Enterprise Minnesota® magazine interview with attorney and former legislator Jim Seifert a couple of years ago. Asked about how manufacturers could ensure their voices are heard at the legislature, Jim replied:
“It’s absolutely critical that manufacturers establish relationships with legislators. They should know who they are. They should know what their interests and policy priorities are. And they should ideally have at least one face-to-face meeting with a legislator or senior staff member. It’s the people who show up who have the power.”
It can be time consuming to connect with elected officials, but they have the power. A critical aspect of our mission to help manufacturers grow profitably is to work with policymakers to limit obstacles to robust growth.
When we help arrange factory tours with legislators, we come along, so we’ve seen the impact of these visits. It’s rare when policymakers don’t express surprise at the great things manufacturers in their own districts are doing. Sometimes they are unaware of their size and scope — even for fairly large companies.
And a note to those who’ve already hosted an elected official: Do it again! Invite them back for an employee recognition event, an ISO certification celebration, or the ribbon cutting on a new addition to your company. Or, just to take another tour. Each connection with policymakers and their staff enhances the relationship and makes it easier to reach out and work together on specific legislation.
We’re delighted to help. If you receive a phone call from Enterprise Minnesota about a tour, we hope you’ll engage in the opportunity.