A coalition of top Arizona business leaders visiting Washington, D.C. the week after the historic 2016 presidential election found Arizona’s representatives and senators generally optimistic about what can be achieved with majorities in both chambers and a member of their party – albeit a political wildcard – in the White House.
“There really wasn’t a better time to do this trip than immediately after this year’s presidential election,” said Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Sanders. “Our job is to help Arizona business leaders succeed with actionable information on issues that move our state forward. Bringing them face-to-face with Arizona’s congressional delegation, senators and the Trump transition team was an ideal way to achieve that goal.”
As a part of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s annual Executive Dialogue Delegation, business leaders were treated to policy briefs from U.S. Chamber of Commerce experts on issues vital to the business community including developing a qualified workforce, trade agreements, overall infrastructure including transportation, the economy, border security, regulatory reform and addressing the U.S. debt including reducing entitlement spending. The policy briefs were followed by candid policy discussions and forecasts for the upcoming year with members of Arizona’s congressional delegation and key staffers.
Overall, the Republican elected officials are generally open to giving Trump a chance to govern and shift away from his campaign-trail rhetoric. They see an opportunity to examine and roll back several of the regulations dictated by Obama appointee-led federal agencies and executive orders. They also share a cautious eye toward repealing the Affordable Care Act in a way that is cognizant of those currently relying on vital medical services and in the middle of critical procedures.
Trump transition team staffer Scott Mason answered delegates’ questions and shared several of the incoming president’s priorities which include uniting the GOP caucus, effectively governing a divided country, repealing the Affordable Care Act, enabling insurance companies to sell across state lines, fixing the entitlement spending problem, dedicating $1 trillion to the country’s aging infrastructure, enacting a comprehensive immigration reform plan and ensuring that all U.S. trade agreements are advantageous to the United States.
How is the political novice president going to achieve all of these sweeping, monumentally challenging proposals?
“President-elect Trump is surrounding himself with the best of the best, extraordinarily intelligent advisors,” Mason said. “He isn’t going rogue; he understands the importance of this.”
The Arizona business delegates came away from the discussions with the U.S. Chamber’s issue experts and the elected officials with several ideas and plans for action in each of the trip’s focus areas.
In the area of filling the workforce talent pipeline, delegates identified the U.S. Chamber’s talent pipeline management (TPM) system as a powerful way to build the workforce needed by Arizona employers through supply-chain management principles, with employers functioning as the end-customers of the talent supply chain.
The Chamber functions most efficiently as the convener of all the players that form the supply chain, helping to bridge gaps between educational institutions, non-profits, workforce organizations, governments and employers.
Delegation members appreciated that the Trump administration is expected to examine and eliminate or rollback several rules made by federal agencies under the Obama administration, particularly those regarding labor and overtime laws. The delegation also agreed that it is vital to make the business community’s voice heard on powerful, yet under-the-radar appointments such as the solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labor.
There is universal agreement between the delegation, elected officials and U.S. Chamber that the U.S. government has a substantial and growing debt and deficit problem. Entitlement spending, which threatens to eventually consume nearly the entire federal budget if left on its current trajectory, is a substantial part of that problem.
There is disagreement among the elected officials on whether any proposal addressing entitlement spending can actually get through Congress and signed by the president in the near term. Delegation members believe that the lack of urgency on this issue by elected officials should be met with a rally point of urgency from the business community.
Scott Mason, of Trump’s transition team, says the president-elect wants to ensure that current trade agreements, including NAFTA, are structured to provide the greatest possible benefit to the U.S. economy. Given Arizona’s economic relationship with Mexico – the state’s largest trading partner – and the efforts put forth by elected officials in fostering and advancing that relationship, this issue is high on the list of concerns for the state’s business community.
Suggestions from the delegation for strengthening Arizona’s trade relationship with Mexico include upgrading Arizona’s ports of entry, enhancing cross-border mobility and reimplementing a guest-worker program. The delegation reacted favorably to Rep. Martha McSally’s suggestion to strengthen and align the United States’ legal immigration system with the country’s economic needs.
“She’s right on with that. Let’s not just have quotas, let’s make the system align with what we need,” said Mike Bontrager, senior vice president with Adolfson & Peterson Construction. “A great example of that is engineering. There aren’t enough engineers in school right now to feed companies’ needs. It’s a problem.”
In all, the delegation came away from the trip feeling informed, energized and ready to act. Delegation members not only engaged with elected officials and let them know how they can enact policies that help business succeed and the economy grow, but they also considered how the business community can best support lawmakers when they cross party lines or otherwise make tough choices on behalf of business.
“We need to support elected officials like Kyrsten Sinema and Jeff Flake who are willing to compromise to do what’s best for Arizona,” said Jaime A. Molera, GPCC Public Affairs Committee chairman. “In trying to break through gridlock in D.C., you have to have people that are principled and willing to do the right thing.”
A special thank you goes out to Southwest Ground Control and APS for making the Executive Dialogue Delegation trip possible.
– Written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.