ECA Small Business Advocacy Week Spotlights Need for More Relief

Andrea Doyle, Executive Editor

WASHINGTON, DC – The Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), a coalition of events-industry associations, held its first Small Business Advocacy Week February 7-10. During this virtual advocacy effort, members of the trade show industry met with their Senators and House members to advocate for the inclusion of the MUSIC Act (S.3325) and its House counterpart legislation in any broader package of financial relief for hard-hit small businesses.

In 2019, face-to-face business events, which includes conventions, trade shows, expositions and business meetings, supported 6.6 million jobs and contributed over $396 billion to U.S. GDP, much of which was lost in 2020 when the industry was shut down.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research recently reported that total business event activity in 2021 was still 57.5% below pre-pandemic 2019 levels. This decline has been particularly hard on small businesses, which are the driving force behind conventions and trade shows nationwide.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the face-to-face business events industry. Including the MUSIC Act as part of any small business COVID relief package is critical to ensuring a strong post-pandemic convention and trade show industry nationwide,” Tommy Goodwin, ECA’s Vice President of Government Affairs, said.

The MUSIC Act would expand access to the Shuttered Venues Operator Grant (SVOG) program to those small businesses with fewer than 250 employees that were left behind by the original SVOG program, including those in the convention and trade show industry. The legislation, which has broad bipartisan support in the Senate, would provide much-needed short-term funding to help small businesses keep their doors open and accelerate rehiring.

“This will be one last kick at the can for additional relief, that we believe will probably be tied to the vote on the U.S. federal budget,” Chris Griffin, Business Leader, CREW XP; Vice President – Executive Committee, EDPA – Experiential Designers & Producers Association and an Industry Advocacy Chair and Future Workforce Committee Member, said. “What a lesson this has been about how Capitol Hill works. In March of 2020, the U.S. government told us we were not essential, and they shut us down In effect, they put us in an induced coma. Just like a patient coming out of a coma, we are going to need rehab support. You don’t leave a patient in this condition and walk away.  We are an industry worth saving that will help jumpstart the economy. Think about it. Every trade show is its own small business incubator. As an industry, we help world trade.”

What makes this effort especially pertinent is its focus on small business. “Supporting small businesses in the trade show and exhibitions sector is important to me. Approximately 80 percent of the exhibitors at RX trade shows are small businesses and many of our suppliers are as well.  We need to do whatever we can to help the small businesses in our sector so they can come back strong,” Steven Manzo, Vice President, Global Government Affairs,  RELX Group, parent company of RX, said. “Collaboration is key.  Our industry has a much stronger voice in Washington if we work together.”

Industry experts agree this effort must be ongoing. “ ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the table,’ is the old saying in D.C., and for too long this industry has not had a seat at the table,” Tim Heffernan, CDO, Eventgineer, T3 Expo, said. “When the pandemic began to hit our industry in February of 2020, we quickly started pulling together people from the industry and from some of my past lives to gain that seat. We did some great early work, in helping with the creation of the PPP program and then as a member of the IFA’s seat on the White House Working Group to reopen the country. However, as what was supposed to be two weeks, turned into months and now years, having our industry heard consistently can’t be accomplished by a once a year fly-in.”

Robyn Davis, Trade Show Strategy Specialist with Exhibitors WINH, said that advocacy isn’t a one-and-done effort. “For me, advocacy isn’t a box to check. It’s an opportunity to build relationships that can ensure our best interests aren’t overlooked when important decisions are made. Because there’s at least one trade show for every industry, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that our work really does impact everyone, everywhere, to some extent and I feel it’s our responsibility to do everything we can for ourselves, and for everyone else too.”

Davis participated in this inaugural Small Business Advocacy Week. “I love our industry and have a bit of a soft spot for small business – especially after growing up in a small business family and working for myself for over a dozen years now – so this event was a perfect fit for me,” she said. “Having a special advocacy week focused on our industry’s small businesses means a lot. I appreciate the ECA, their partners and all of the individual industry professionals who are helping to shine a light on what’s been happening. Hopefully, our collective efforts will resonate enough to result in more support and understanding, not just for right now, but in the future as well.”

Rob Cohen, VP of Display Supply & Lighting, agrees that advocacy must be a constant effort. “We have learned, and unfortunately not until we hit hard times, that advocacy must be a game that we play 365 days a year. Building relationships with our elected officials on all levels of government must be an ongoing effort by our industry. This effort is most effective when our constituents are willing to tell their stories and engage as a community,” Cohen, who has been part of many Congressional calls and strategy sessions, said. “It has been so gratifying to witness a large number of industry voices join together in this effort. As part of the Experiential Designers and Producers Association’s (EDPA) advocacy team, we have been grateful for our partnership with the ECA and to work with Tommy Goodwin with the common goal of advocating for much needed relief for our entire industry. Our collective voices and coordinated efforts are being heard and we are hopeful that we can help to get this legislation pushed over the finish line – together!”

Related. ESCA Campaign Showcases the Many Ways Our Industry is ALL IN

Reach Tommy Goodwin at (703) 672-0780 or tommy.goodwin@ecalliance.net; Tim Heffernan at (516) 810-0453; Steven Manzo at Robyn Davis at (614) 657-7412 or robyn@exhibitorswinh.com; Rob Cohen at (508) 861-3119 or rcohen@dslgroup.com; Chris Griffin at (407) 852-1910 or cgriffin@crewxp.com