Author: Mike Huckins, Vice President of Public Affairs
Last month, I joined Greater Phoenix Chamber President and CEO Todd Sanders to lead the Chamber’s fifth annual Washington, D.C. Executive Dialogue trip.
This trip is an annual opportunity for Chamber leaders to foster personal connections between Chamber members and Arizona’s federal delegation.
During this year’s trip, our meetings and discussion focused on four essential policy areas impacting Arizona’s businesses: education & workforce, health care, infrastructure, and trade. Each topic was discussed with representatives from the U.S. Chamber, representatives from the White House, and Arizona’s congressional delegation.
One of the most important and timely issues we discussed during our delegation trip was trade. The international trade conflicts happening at the federal level are creating uncertainty for industry leaders, and we know that uncertainty makes it hard to do business.
For more than a year, Arizona businesses have been waiting for clarity on the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). The USMCA is an important step to finalizing the agreement and ensuring the three countries have continued, thriving economic relationships that benefit all parties.
The USMCA is an effort to reshape and modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the United States, Mexico, and Canada established in 1993. Trade with Canada and Mexico represents a vital part of Arizona’s economy. The USMCA has provided assurances to the business community that these trade relationships are valued. However, it’s important that the USMCA continues to move forward and be passed by all nations.
This was a top concern for leaders who participated in this year’s trip, and we expressed the importance of the USMCA agreement to members of our federal delegation.
Education and Workforce
Education and workforce are key pain points for many businesses as Arizona’s labor market continues to tighten. Employers across all industries are struggling to find and retain the qualified talent they need to meet business demands.
The delegation spoke with leaders about the importance of different approaches and supporting multiple career pathways to success.
Specifically, we discussed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Talent Pipeline Management® principle, which focuses on aligning the needs of businesses with education providers. The Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation utilized the TPM principles in building the Foundation’s Workforce Collaboratives.
The discussion revealed that industry leaders need to take a more collaborative approach, working together to solve a universal problem instead of competing for talent resources.
As evidenced by the new cycle, health care remains a hot topic for businesses and employees.
There have been regulatory modifications that aid in the health care sector including changes to Medicare to reflect a more a free-market style that benefits business by offering the employer additional options for premiums, as well as deductible smoothing and changes to chronic conditions to allow for more chronic illness coverage that increases healthy workplaces by giving consumers the option to treat their condition preventatively and eliminate unnecessary cost and retain their health.
Employers remain the primary payers of health care in Arizona. Two-thirds of prescription drug costs are paid by employers, taxpayers, unions, and governments. As drug prices continue to increase rapidly, it’s important that employers continue to have access to tools that encourage employees to utilize generic and other cost-effective medicine.
There have been multiple attempts to address the drug pricing issue at the federal level. The Chamber continues to monitor these proposals and will advocate for solutions that benefit the business community as a whole.
Infrastructure continues to be a major challenge across the U.S, and it is an issue that is of vital importance to the business community.
As the country’s infrastructure continues to age, it requires more and more maintenance to ensure that it remains safe and operable. The tough questions that must be answered by leadership are how and where to invest the money to ensure the U.S. infrastructure is safe and able to provide the required capacity to keep up with demand.
As our cities and industries continue to expand, the surrounding infrastructure needs to receive proper levels of funding. If it’s not, people and businesses pay the price. The price of inaction costs more than investing in infrastructure. The average American loses up to $1,000 annually in lost fuel due to traffic congestion and up to $600 per year in car maintenance due to poor road conditions. Although technology is advancing to provide alternate transportation options, a very small percentage of miles traveled are from fuel sources other than gas or diesel.
Locally and federally, there is still a call to reevaluate the gas tax to supply adequate infrastructure funding along with other revenue-generating options to deal with this need.
During all of the issue-based discussions, our team and our members emphasized the importance of clarity on key federal laws and regulations.
The Chamber will continue to advocate for business at every level. This annual trip to D.C. with Chamber leaders and our members supports our ability to emphasize Arizona’s interests to our federal lawmakers.