In May, NATSO members from across the country will assemble on Capitol Hill and meet face-to-face with their lawmakers to discuss the key issues facing the truckstop and travel plaza industry and protect the businesses they’ve spent years building.
“Unfortunately our government is becoming more and more involved in our business. The only way to keep them from passing burdensome legislation is to personally go there and speak with them about the issues,” said Bill Vollenweider, president of the Detroiter Travel Center. “They say that you cannot fight city hall but that is not true. If your cause is good, they will listen.”
Tom Liutkus, marketing director for TravelCenters of America, said, “As much as we struggle with our poor perceptions of Congress, this is how business gets done.” He added, “Operators should attend because it matters to them and their businesses.”
Delia Moon Meier, senior vice president of the Iowa 80 Group, said, “This isn’t just for people who like politics. In fact, I imagine every attendee would prefer to spend that day working at their truckstop. Unfortunately, America has shifted and a government takeover of our industry is a very real possibility. People just aren’t aware of how the truckstop industry works and how unfair and damaging the commercialization of rest areas would be. They aren’t aware of how many people we employ and our contributions to the local and state communities.”
For operators, the event is a chance to build new relationships with their elected officials and their staff and strengthen existing ones. Last year, Liutkus re-connected with an Ohio state legislator who had been elected to Congress. The lawmaker remembered attending open houses at two new TA sites in Ohio five to seven years earlier. “It taught me that even for a chain like ours, our legislators do listen, are aware of how things impact us and will consider all of the issues before they cast a vote,” he said.
Vollenweider said he has found that lawmakers enjoy speaking with their constituents. “They are constantly talking with lobbyists but when they have a ‘real’ small businessman take the time to come to see them, they really enjoy meeting us and talking with us.”
It is impossible for lawmakers to be experts on every industry or the unintended consequences legislation may have, so they rely on their constituents. “It is our job to inform our legislators of those consequences so they can make a more informed decision on a vote. If we don’t take the time to do that, we have no one to blame for those consequences but us,” Liutkus said.
All operators are encouraged to attend, even if they’ve never met with their representatives before. Mark Augustine, president of Triplett Inc., said no one should feel intimidated by the process. “Congressman are eager to meet their constitutes and learn about policies and issues that are affecting their lives,” he said.
Liutkus has been attending the Day on Capitol Hill event for over ten years. “After my first year, I was hooked. Not only did I surprise myself and do quite well, I did have a sense of civic pride because this is how Congress works and a very effective way to get our company’s and our industry’s positions out on key legislation.”
At the end of the event, NATSO and its members host the annual pie reception, where operators and lawmakers have a chance to talk over a slice of pie.
“Last year at the Day on the Hill my Congressman, Tim Huelskamp, made an effort to seek me out at pie reception. I had a great time visiting with him and his staff,” Augustine said.
“If you are going to stay in business, you have to consider going. To actually see what our representatives do and how the system works is truly amazing. It is not work, it is truly fun and exciting,” Vollenweider said. “It is an experience that you will enjoy and remember.”
Plan Now to Attend NATSO's Day on Capitol Hill Event
May 6–8 in Washington, D.C. NATSO staff will prepare you for your meetings, providing you with information on the issues to be discussed and some helpful hints on how to conduct a successful meeting. Register for the conference and reserve your room at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel. Contact Brad Stotler at (703) 739-8566 or email@example.com with questions.
Photo Credit: Paul Morse/NATSO
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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