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Eisen’s Goal: Boost IFDA’s Brand Awareness in DC

{mosimage}Newly promoted senior vice president of government relations, Jon Eisen, would be the first to admit that in unison with elaborating at length why his long-term goal is to enhance even more the Falls Church, VA-based association's "brand awareness" on Capitol Hill. Obviously, he explained in a recent interview with ID Access, a more visible presence in the nation's capital would place IFDA, a non-partisan trade association, in a better position to serve the interests of the membership.

"For the long term, I want to create a larger brand name for our association. We are a very large industry that is not very well understood on Capitol Hill. My goal is to change that. IFDA has made progress, as an association only in its fourth year of existence. However, I want to create a higher level of visibility for our industry in Washington," Eisen said.

"I want to create a higher level of visibility for our industry in Washington."
While Eisen is quite adept at promoting industry concerns while pounding the hallowed hallways of congressional and agency buildings, having previously served as association's director of government services, to fulfill his latest goal he has embarked on an outreach effort to distributor-members. The anticipated outcome will be to energize the association's grassroots abilities.

"I'd like to get members of Congress into our member companies' facilities so they see what a modern distribution facility looks like and have a greater understanding of what modern foodservice distribution entails," he continued.

In the past, several distributors have been proactive in this project by inviting their elected officials to visit their facilities. Eisen hopes the frequency of such tours will increase.

"Connecting members of Congress and senators with their constituents back home makes our job much easier in Washington and strengthens our ability to participate in the policymaking process. If legislators understand who they are going to be impacting when they consider legislation and regulations, it makes a tremendous difference," he said.

Pointing out the complexity and uniqueness of modern foodservice distribution, Eisen noted that congressmen and senators are familiar with the names of distributorships emblazoned on their delivery trucks. However, he added, they don't understand the business of distribution.

"This is a program that I'd like to energize. I think it pays dividends in Washington when we're trying to work on policy," he explained.

"It is important for congressmen to see that our members are employers at home."
Eisen's advice to distributorships that will host their elected officials is to express to them their views on how government regulations are hampering their business, curtailing their expansion and, as a result, restricting local employment growth, a sensitive topic for every elected official.

"Hours of service regulations are another classic example. Business decisions were often made based on a driver's ability to serve certain geographic areas because of the old rules. Now, with the new rules in place, it becomes more difficult to serve some of those areas. This is a good example of pointing out to the lawmakers the impact back home of what they're doing on Capitol Hill," he continued.

Eisen indicated that the host-your-congressmen effort is not limited to large distributorships. Even small companies are reasonably substantial employers, he pointed out, because distribution is labor intensive.

"It is important for congressmen to see that our members are employers at home, that any mandates that they place on business will inhibit our members' abilities to expand their businesses and create more jobs, which is something that all members of congressmen are sensitive to," Eisen said.

Eisen's second issue is getting out the vote. IFDA has been involved in the Prosperity Project of the Business and Industry Political Action Committee, whose goal is to increase the business vote.

While most company owners and executives may be registered voters and politically active, this e-mail-driven effort drills down even to employees and reminds all industry personnel about forgotten voting rights and privileges, Eisen said.

"They may be registered to vote but the executive or others in the company may be away from home on Election Day and may not know that they can walk into their local election board and, depending on the state, vote anytime up to a month before Election Day. We will also show distributors how to apply for absentee ballots," he said.

Together with this, IFDA will be providing a record of all congressmen and senators' votes on industry issues on its website: www.ifdaonline.org . Employers could share this information in a non-partisan way with their employees, he suggested.

With mid-term elections just six months away, Eisen said it is important for the industry to do what it can to support those lawmakers and candidates that have been supportive of industry and business. Noting that the political climate is unsettled and not pro-business, Eisen expressed concern that industry opponents could take control of one or both houses of Congress, which could lead to the adoption of legislation and regulations that would have an adverse effect on the industry.

While Republicans have been more favorably inclined toward business than Democrats, Eisen went beyond pure party affiliation when he said distributors should make contact with their elected officials regardless of where they stand in the political spectrum.

"A personal relationship with your member of Congress can pay dividends in the long run in a wide variety of areas."
"The point is even if a congressman is not always supportive of the industry on issues, there are many times where lawmakers can give help to their constituents and businesses located in their districts that would not necessarily be based on politics but would be constituent services projects," Eisen said. "So if our members know their members of Congress personally, no matter what side of the aisle they're on, there could be great benefits. A personal relationship with your member of Congress can pay dividends in the long run in a wide variety of areas."

As for specific, down-to-earth industry issues, Eisen regards the hours of service regulation as the "single most important issue that we can have an impact on."

Due to pending lawsuits, the issue is in a state of suspended animation while IFDA conducts discussions with other industry groups, looking for opportunities where it could influence the outcome in distribution's favor.

As for the high cost of fuel, despite limited avenues for recourse, IFDA is working to provide members with alternatives to this margin-eroding calamity.

"We support a bill for tax credits for engine idling reduction technology. We will look for similar opportunities that would provide money to help stimulate technology that will reduce fuel consumption," Eisen said.

Immigration is another highly-visible issue for the foodservice industry, especially distributors' customers. Eisen said IFDA is supporting the position of the National Restaurant Association, Washington, DC, on expanding the nation's workforce, which, he added, would be in the best interest of the distribution and the larger foodservice industry.

"We are supportive of the Senate bill, which we believe is the right path to allow many of the undocumented residents to become documented, which would ease some of the labor shortages that exist now, certainly on the restaurant side," he said.

(Distributors, if you invite your elected officials to tour your facility, please contact the editor of ID.)

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