The Outdoor Industry Association's Capitol Summit, March 31 to April 1, successfully brought together 30 industry leaders in addition to the OIA staff to meet with key legislators and policy-makers at the federal level.
During the two-day, suit-and-tie affair (OK, so SNEWSÂ® co-publisher Michael Hodgson just couldn't manage the tie part, opting instead for a bolo), OIA presented the association's "Exploring the Active Lifestyle" data to congressional staff and health and public land agency personnel, with OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer challenging each of them to adequately fund parks and trails to increase the health and outdoor activity levels of Americans.
Every minute of both days was filled, with OIA coordinating over 40 appointments for roving teams of Summit attendees with key D.C. policymakers, including Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, BLM and Forest Service leaders, White House policy staff, Reps. Norm Dicks and George Miller, Sens. Wayne Allard and Craig Thomas, and more.
In many cases, Summit attendees scheduled additional meetings, leaving many somewhat breathless as they ran via underground subway or cherry-blossom lined streets from building to building in search of the next House or Congressional office.
OIA also presented the association's 2004 Friends of the Outdoor Industry Awards to Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Rep. Boehlert was recognized for his effort (though it eventually failed) to add $100 million to the Conservation Trust Fund. Sen. Murray was applauded for her work in shepherding the Wild Sky Wilderness proposal through the U.S. Senate. In addition to the award presentations and meetings, OIA also hosted 150 Washington, D.C., partners and Summit attendees at its Friends of the Outdoor Industry Reception at the National Geographic Society.
In all but a very few cases, meetings with legislators were highly productive, with Summit attendees calling the reception the warmest the industry has ever experienced -- thanks in large part to the stand the OIA made in Utah that established a financial and political clout no legislator thought the industry had previously.
While SNEWSÂ® learned Hugelmeyer preached the "religion" of the outdoor industry to Secretary Norton like a Southern Baptist (and, we were told, Norton "got religion" during the meeting), perhaps the most significant meeting was with the White House staff.
For anyone who understands pecking orders and how much of a message is sent regarding perceived importance of a meeting by who is sent to attend those meetings, the Summit team scored a grand-slam home run. The Summit team consisted of OIA President Hugelmeyer, OIA Vice President of Government Affairs Myrna Johnson, REI CEO Dennis Madsen, Cascade Designs President Lee Fromson, The North Face CFO Dan Templin, Le Travel Store owner Joan Keller and GoLite CEO Kim Coupounas.
The White House sent the following to the meeting (SNEWSÂ® has noted their functions in parentheses for you): Eric Pelletier, deputy assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs (the most senior legislative affairs person and the one that monitors what's happening on the Hill and tries to influence legislative outcomes based on the President's views); Alan Gilbert, special assistant to the President for Domestic Policy (the most senior health care policy person); David Anderson, associate director for Agriculture and director of the Council for Environmental Quality (the most senior environmental person); Mike Meece, special assistant to the President and deputy director of Public Liaison (he's the guy who makes meetings happen and figures out who should be in the room to create the most productive meeting possible); Glynda A. Becker, associate political director, White House Office of Political Affairs; Eric Burgeson, associate director of Cabinet Affairs (helps link interest groups up with the appropriate cabinet members); and William Greene, associate director of Strategic Initiatives (helps team interest groups with the different policy initiatives coming out of the White House).
During this high-level meeting, the Summit team told SNEWS that the following was accomplished:
1. Obesity and Health. The group shared what the outdoor industry is already doing to address the obesity crisis and shared how the industry can integrate with the work that the President is already doing. The White House team was introduced to the research that OIA just completed, specifically the link between the outdoors and health and fitness. "We highlighted the research and built the connection between access to trails and parks and our nation's health and fitness," Coupounas told us. "We openly discussed the need for aggressive, effective, long-term plans to address this epidemic, not lip-service or bully-pulpit only (although that's important, too, especially from the President). We heard about their Healthy U.S. initiative and about how seriously they take this issue. And we offered ourselves up to help them craft a major fitness initiative with getting outdoors and access to trails and parks as a key element in the set of solutions."
2. Protecting Public Lands and Recreation Access. The OIA team shared its thoughts about public lands with a view toward the long-term policy impact on recreation destinations and access, things near and dear to our industry and to the health of the country. While the White House team listened intently to the OIA views on these issues, they didn't offer much in response. These areas are not historically or currently strong areas for the President.
3. Protecting Public Lands is an Economic Issue. What did get the White House staff's attention was the point several members of the OIA team brought home, that access to public lands is more than a health or environmental issue. Access and protection of lands is an economic one for the companies that make up our industry. "I think they began to see that good conservation policy and a focus on access to public lands for Americans is not just a 'green' issue, but that there is an economic force out there (the outdoor industry) that relies on these for its own economic success," said Coupounas.
4. Health Care Crisis. The OIA team brought up the issue of the rising cost of health care and highlighted the alignment between OIA and the White House's support for Associated Health Plans to enable smaller businesses to offer affordable health care for employees in our industry. Alan Gilbert, the health care policy-maker in the room, made clear the President's complete support for this legislation, we were told.
"While no specific plans for collaboration were discussed, the doors were definitely opened for the future, and the White House now knows the outdoor industry as a real voice in the policy arena with legitimate and compelling views," Coupounas told us. "No matter who wins the next election, the outdoor industry was greatly served by this meeting, and there is enormous potential for us to contribute to solutions to the obesity crisis that might come out of the White House."
Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the two-day affair was a chance meeting by two of our illustrious industry leaders with Sen. Ted Kennedy in a park next to the Capitol building (where he was tossing a ball to his dog). We're told that they introduced themselves and mentioned why they were at the Capitol, and Kennedy commented that mountaineer Jim Whittaker was a friend. Kennedy then reportedly said something along the lines of, "Whittaker, wasn't he the president of REA?" Umm, Ted, that would be REI, but what's a misplaced vowel or two among friends anyway.
To view photos from the OIA Capitol Summit, go to: www.outdoorindustry.org/gallery.php.
SNEWSÂ® View: It is clear that neither the White House or, for that matter, anyone at the federal level has a far-reaching anti-obesity plan yet, despite the fact all are eager to talk about the Healthy U.S. initiative or some other iteration. Still, it became very clear that the outdoor industry has finally been recognized as an entity that must be included in any serious plans toward achieving a healthier America. What was also clear to SNEWS is that membership in OIA is more important now than ever before. No, you don't have to agree with all that OIA does, but as a member of our industry, you do need to be a member of the one association that is your face before the government. Our hat is off to the entire OIA team. Its efforts over the last year -- and certainly the groundwork laid in prior years -- has elevated our industry in the eyes and minds of legislators crafting policies that affect our businesses. Finally, we are viewed as a political force with financial and economic clout and we wield a power like never before -- and that is a very, very good thing.
SNEWSÂ® is a subscription-only news service. We are allowing public access to this article as a benefit to the industry. If you are not already a subscriber and like what you are reading, we encourage you to become a subscriber by clicking on www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/subscribe.html.