Last week more than 40 Upstate leaders and business owners arrived in Washington, D.C. for two days of meetings with Congressional leaders and staff to lobby on issues important to the Upstate business community.
First stop was a fun stop and a rarely taken tour of The Pentagon, hosted by former Greenville resident and Leadership Greenville graduate Col. Donald Revell, USMC. Col. Revell is the Vice Deputy Director for Battlespace Awareness for the Pentagon's Joint Staff. While the tour was mostly fun, there was a somber moment when the group visited the 9/11 Memorial inside the Pentagon at the place the plane crashed into the building.
Next up was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices for policy briefings on the "unprecedented" expansion of labor law executive orders. Ogletree Deakins attorneys Hal Coxson and Al Robinson -- two of the nation's premier labor law experts -- presented the latest information on the "Persuader Rule" and the new Overtime regulations.
U.S. Chamber experts briefed us on a series of topics including the 2016 elections, transportation, and trade. Ed Mortimer, the Executive Director of Transportation and Infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber spoke to the group about the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act), and the importance of sustainable funding at both the local and federal levels of government. Christopher Wenk, Executive Director of International Policy gave a trade briefing where he discussed the importance of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Export- Import Bank to the Upstate: “The U.S. cannot afford to standby while other countries enter into trade agreements that open up trade for them but cut out the U.S.”
Abby Majlak, Director of Political Affairs & Federation Relations gives a 2016 elections briefing.
We rounded out the first day with a little more fun by attending the Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves game at Nationals Park. A little rain couldn’t keep us away from enjoying America’s favorite past-time while also enjoying great company and food, including a D.C. favorite, Ben’s Chili Bowl (well, I enjoyed it!). We were also joined by staff from Congressman Trey Gowdy’s office and Senator Lindsey Graham’s office.
Thursday morning started bright and early with a beautiful walk across the Capitol grounds to have breakfast with our delegation members from the U.S. House of Representatives at the Capitol Hill Club. Congressman Trey Gowdy (SC-4) from Greenville welcomed us and introduced other members of the House delegation including Congressmen Joe Wilson (SC-2), Tom Rice (SC-7), Mick Mulvaney (SC-5), Mark Sanford (SC-1), and Jeff Duncan (SC-3). Each member of the delegation talked about current issues facing Congress like a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government, funding for the Zika Virus, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, immigration, and the upcoming November elections.
Congressman Gowdy also brought along a special friend and colleague Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight committee.
After our breakfast with the House delegation, we made our way to the Capitol and the Capitol Visitor’s Center where we continued our Hill meetings. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke to us about his role in the House and what he hopes to accomplish as his tenure as Speaker. Speaker Ryan answered several questions from the group, including a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and was not optimistic about TPP’s chances of getting passed this year.
Next up we heard from both our South Carolina senators, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott. With Senator Graham we discussed the import role that the Port of Charleston plays in the Upstate’s economy. Even though the port is over 200 miles away, the port has an estimated $27 billion economic impact on the Upstate, according to a study done last year. Senator Graham also commended the Upstate Chamber Coalition on our advocacy for the Export-Import Bank, which serves as a financing agent for business of all sizes to be able to export their goods.
Senator Tim Scott spoke about his efforts on criminal justice reform, recidivism, and the need for these populations to re-enter the workforce. "I'm an example of second chances. I was headed down the wrong road until I came across a mentor that saw more in me than I saw in myself,” said Scott. Senator Scott is working with lawmakers across the aisle, like New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Louisiana’s Democratic House member Cedric Richmond to tackle criminal justice reform legislation.
We also had the privilege of meeting and hearing from long-time CBS commentator and Face of the Nation host, Bob Schieffer. Schieffer key-noted our lunch and spoke on the 2016 Presidential race and the history of Presidential politics. Our group especially enjoyed hearing his personal anecdotes from his time as a White House correspondent, including a time he helped Walter Cronkite get an exclusive scoop.
We ended our trip with a reception on the rooftop of the Embassy of Canada, with great views of both the Capitol and the Washington Monument. From our South Carolina delegation, Congressmen Trey Gowdy, Jeff Duncan, Joe Wilson, and Senator Tim Scott attended the reception along with members of their staffs. This was a great opportunity for our members from the Upstate business community to get to know the individuals that represent them in Washington and discuss issues that are important to them.
We had a great group of business leaders attend the trip this year from diverse sectors and industries such as manufacturing, higher education, local governments, and small business. These members had a unique opportunity to meet with their federal representatives and leadership in Washington to talk about the important issues facing our state and region.
If you’re interested in attending Washington, D.C. on our 2018 trip, or have any questions about the Upstate Chamber Coalition’s federal advocacy, please contact Katie Busbee or Jason Zacher.
One attendee from the trip wrote:
“This event is well worth the time and expense. It provides an up close and personal perspective of the decisions being made . . . additionally, it provides a unique experience in regards to forming strong relationships with other community leaders that you just can't replicate by playing in a golf tournament.”
“The Upstate Chamber Coalition trip to Washington DC was time well spent. It allowed me to network with our federal legislative delegation, learn about pertinent legislative and budget issues, and also network with a number of Upstate leaders.”