"Inside the Beltway." "Politics as usual." These are phrases that quickly turn off any Texas, myself included. When you look at the political climate in Washington, D.C. today, it is so easy to get discouraged. Congress has been halted to nearly a stalemate, and many of the federal agencies are increasing oversight on our companies.
In my opinion, this is more motivation to get involved in the political process. We as an association can impact a change in the political landscape. This requires more than voting in primary and general elections. To truly invoke change, you need to make your voice heard by contacting your elected officials and their staff and telling them firsthand how their decisions impact your life and your business.
I am particularly excited about this year's IEC National Legislative Conference. This is the one time a year that we can gather in Washington, D.C. and speak nationally as a group. We have a full day devoted to walking from office to office on Capitol Hill and meeting our Senators and Representatives.
The early days of the conference are just as critical as the day on "The Hill." On those days I like to speak with my fellow members about the political issues in their area. The problems facing electrical contractors in Connecticut or Montana, for example, may not be the same as what I encounter every day in Texas. Our interaction allows me to speak on a wide range of topics that impact all of IEC while still focusing on the local goals that are paramount to my personal experiences.
Each year, IEC has a collection of primary issues that we want to focus on during the Legislative Conference. This year there is one proposed Senate bill that has me particularly optimistic. The Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs Act, or LEAP Act, provides tax credits to businesses that employ apprentices. The credit would be $1,500 for each new apprentice under 25 and $1,000 for new apprentices over 25. The tax credit will allow many IEC members to hire even more apprentices, which will help reduce the risk of the looming skills gap that we will have in the electrical industry. At Joe Swartz Electric, we have already experienced the shortage of qualified workers.
Not only does this proposed bill directly benefit the overwhelming majority of IEC members, it was also introduced by a Republican and a Democrat. This type of bipartisan activity has been absent in recent years. I plan to go to our Legislative Conference May 19-21 and encourage my Senators to take action on the LEAP Act. It will have a sweeping, positive effect on the construction sector, an industry that was devastated by the recent recession.
However, the Legislative Conference is only one event, we must be involved legislatively year round and not just on the national level. We should voice our opinion on the local and state level also as they can have just as much, if not more, of an impact than Washington, D.C. Work with your IEC chapter to participate in your local IEC legislative day. Government Affairs is one of IEC's core competencies, and it is up to us as contractors to make our voice and positions heard. If we all come together and speak up on how to improve our great country, we can destroy the notion of "Politics as Usual."
Gordon Stewart is IEC's 2014 National President. As the principal elected officer of the association, Stewart serves as chair to the Board of Directors, House of Delegates, and Executive Committee. He has been in the electrical industry for 35 years and is currently the General Manager at Joe Swartz Electric in Houston, Texas.