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Why business leaders should be involved in politics

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Thursday, September 25, 2014
By now, I’ve covered how to research a candidate and what you can do to help. One thing was beaten into my head a long, long time ago in a in journalism school far, far away: “Why? Give them the Why!” I touched on it in the first post in this series. When you’re opening a business, an area’s tax and regulatory climate goes a long way toward ensuring whether you can focus on your business or must focus on state and local paperwork. The Upstate, and South Carolina as a whole, are both routinely singled out as great places to do business. But we can always do better, and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Columbia are focused on the issue and always ready to take suggestions. So you need to suggest away. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting on a Business Black Box panel at the McNair Law Firm. We discussed just this issue. The biggest single reason to get involved in a political campaign this fall is to build a relationship. Politics is a business that runs on relationships, first and foremost. Most public officials are responsive to their constituents, but, after 10 years of working side-by-side with the best in Columbia, some folks’ phone calls are returned a bit more quickly. Hopefully, your business will never run afoul of some DHEC regulation that you didn’t even know was on the books. But when you do, a simple call to your state House member or Senator can begin the process toward a solution. As House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, pointed out on the panel: “It’s easier if the first time you make a call to a public official isn’t asking for something.” (He went on to add: “Though, we all recognize that usually the first time a politician calls you is to ask for something,” drawing a laugh from the crowd.) Building those relationships is critical, and quite easy. Call or email a local official and ask if you can get coffee to talk. Most public officials appreciate you taking a second to figure out what works in their schedule. They’re being pulled in 100 directions by constituents. If you’re considerate of their time, they’ll be more receptive to your message. You don’t need to be heavily involved – going to city council meetings or watching the online feed of the General Assembly each day. Here are a few ways: 1)      Join the Chamber of Commerce and get involved with the Upstate Chamber Coalition. Twelve Upstate chambers are part of the Upstate Chamber Coalition, and we send out regular updates to our members when there’s news. Your Chamber is also responsive should you have an issue and need to be connected to a local official. Public Policy is one of the most important services a Chamber provides (in the humble opinion of the Public Policy chamber official). 2)      Get involved in your industry association. Nearly every industry association at the state or federal level has a team focused narrowly on the issues that matter to your company. Most of them employ lobbyists in Columbia and most send weekly or monthly updates about what is going on at the state house. I know you’re busy running a company, but it takes 15 minutes to read. 3)      Many of the previously mentioned associations, including the Chambers of Commerce, may issue calls to action from time to time. If you’ve taken a few minutes to join your Chamber or association, and then your Chamber of industry association issues a call to action, you can call your elected official and let them know why that’s important to your business – and by extension, to the families your business employs. Getting involved is critical to your bottom line – particularly if you are in a heavily regulated industry. Build those relationships now. And if you need help, your Chamber of Commerce and industry associations are there to help. As always, if you’re a member of the Upstate Chamber Coalition, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about public policy and elections.


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