The Four-Letter Word that Helped My Business
The Four-Letter Word that Helped My Business
I have to say, BCMC was a lot of fun to attend this year. The BCMC Build charity project is hard work, but it’s always a great way to kick off a week dedicated to bringing the industry together. The show floor was full of people, and from my conversations with other component manufacturers (CMs) and our supplier exhibitors, it was clear there is real confidence about the future of our industry. I see a lot of opportunity for our industry to grow and further change the way homes are framed. Having said that, I strongly believe our success will be dependent on our ability to forge stronger working relationships with those outside the industry, including building officials, members of the fire service, specifiers, framers and lawmakers.
I started to understand the importance and power of relationship building with individuals outside our industry back in 2003, when I attended my first SBC Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. I had never been there before and was a little anxious about what to say and do. At the time, our big policy issue was the softwood lumber dispute between the U.S. and Canada, and the hefty tariffs added by our government onto imported dimensional lumber. This was a significant problem for CMs in the states bordering Canada, as Canadian CMs could purchase lumber without the tariff, then produce and ship components cheaper than their U.S. counterparts.
While both countries appeared to be working toward a longer-term solution to this issue (it still remains the longest standing trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada), there was a significant obstacle barring forward progress: the Byrd Amendment. Passed in October 2000, this law directed the federal government to give the money collected through tariffs like those attached to Canadian lumber directly to the U.S. producers protected by the tariff. When I traveled to DC, the tariffs were being disputed, so instead of the money being distributed, it was collected and held by the U.S. government.
In other words, a huge pot of money had been collected that was creating a barrier to reforms. U.S. lumber producers wanted that money given to them as was law under the Byrd Amendment, the Canadian government wanted the money back to give to their lumber producers who had originally paid it (giving them a huge financial windfall in the process), and the U.S. government was stuck in the middle without a clear solution. I went into my meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) Legal Counsel Everett Eissenstat, and I remember being pretty nervous.
Fortunately, we were not the only industry negatively impacted by the Byrd Amendment. While its impact on our industry was new information to Everett, Sen. Grassley was already on board in the effort to repeal the law. By the end of the meeting, I was convinced I had made the right decision to come to DC to bring our industry’s struggles to their attention. While I was leaving, I thanked Everett for taking the time to meet with me. I’ll never forget when he said, “Rick, you said the four-letter word.” It took me a second before I realized he meant, “Iowa.”
Over the next two years, my relationship with Everett grew. Sen. Grassley came to visit my production facility, I went back to DC two more times to talk about the lumber dispute and get behind-the-scenes information. In December 2005, the Byrd Amendment was repealed, and in April 2006, the U.S. and Canada entered into the current softwood lumber trade agreement that eliminated most of the tariffs placed on imports. Even after Everett left Sen. Grassley’s office for an appointment to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, my relationship with him continued to be very beneficial.
Since the light bulb first went on, I have remained committed to building stronger relationships with people like Everett. Most of the time, I concentrate on getting to know my local building officials (which I have a new found respect for), giving educational presentations to firefighters and specifiers, and trying to be a good resource for builders, framers and code officials. I’ll admit, it’s a slow process. Any good relationship takes time. However, I can easily say the time I have put into it over the last decade has paid me back many times over.
In addition to lawmakers in Washington, DC, I have also had success building bridges with local lawmakers in Iowa. Each year our local chapter, the Iowa Truss Manufacturers Association (ITMA), hosts a breakfast at the state capitol building in Des Moines. It’s a really valuable opportunity to meet with legislators from across the state, learn about their legislative priorities, get the inside scoop on the chances of various bills being passed, and increase awareness of our industry and the role it plays in Iowa’s economy.
I’ve also had success inviting my local politicians into our production facility and showing them how we manufacture our products. Those one-hour tours are the most effective way to capture their attention and raise awareness on how various laws and regulations affect our business, from OSHA oversight and tax burdens to potentially harmful building code changes. If there is one thing I would encourage every component manufacturer to do, it would be to open up your doors and invite individuals from outside our industry to come into your plant and learn more about what we do.
I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as President of SBCA this coming year. I want to sincerely thank Scott Ward for his dedicated leadership of this organization; he left me big shoes to fill. I want to also congratulate Scott on winning this year’s SBCA Leadership Award—he certainly deserves it.
My goal this coming year is to encourage CMs to follow a path similar to mine and begin building more relationships with the individuals in our market that can have a big impact on our business. SBCA has created a number of resources to help us give educational presentations and share best practices with everyone from code officials to framers. There is so much potential for our industry to grow, and I believe these relationships are necessary for that to happen. We will be stronger working together than working against each other!