NAIOP members from across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic gathered in Pittsburgh this week for an annual legislative summit to discuss ways to execute effective advocacy strategies.
It’s crucial that chapters engage in the political process. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” NAIOP President and CEO Thomas Bisacquino warned in kicking off the summit. Politicians may see commercial real estate as a source of tax revenue. But poor tax policies would threaten the CRE industry, and that’s not in anyone’s best interest.
Over the course of the event, chapter leaders discussed how to build a successful advocacy program, how to leverage relationships between members and political leaders, how to communicate ideas through the media, and some of the legislative threats that may loom on the horizon.
Coordination is key, since methods that are successful in one locality can often be used in other areas to drive change, and threats that develop in one area often pop up soon in other areas. Commercial real estate professionals should work in tandem to promote pro-growth public policy.
Pittsburgh City Council member Dan Gilman told the conference attendees that the city and its developers should work together to promote the three Ps: people, planet and profit. He says an area can only thrive when all three are present.
He said his city has “a secret recipe” for success. That recipe can’t be written down, he noted, and will vary from one city or state to the next. However, he said there are certain important ingredients. One is inclusion. He said the city’s motto when it comes to public policy is, “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.”
Gilman also explained that the city faces major infrastructure challenges, such as maintaining its many bridges. He said he isn’t expecting much direct help from the state or federal governments, but pointed out that Pittsburgh has great potential and is working to solve its problems. Gilman added that public-private partnerships could play a role in solving the city’s transportation problems.
Some regional issues discussed during the summit included:
- Inclusionary zoning. Chapters discussed ways they have successfully pushed back against inclusionary zoning proposals that would have slowed growth in their markets. The issue is expected to eventually end up being decided by the Supreme Court. But in the meantime, local chapters are holding the line against activists on this issue.
- Permitting. Attendees learned about a state legislative measure in Georgia (SB 2) that would reform the permitting process by requiring local governments to issue permits within an established timeframe. If the local government is late, the fee is reduced. By incentivizing local governments to meet the established timeline, the measure would provide developers with more certainty in planning projects.
- Environmental issues. From a green roof initiative in Denver to state and local policies on energy exploration and the treatment of animal species (such as birds, mice and bats), NAIOP chapter leaders discussed ways they are working to promote public policies that protect the environment while also enabling economic growth.
- Tax policy. NAIOP chapters are reaching out to state and federal lawmakers to advocate for maintaining important and useful tax credits, even though these credits often come with strings attached. On the local level, chapters worked to reduce property tax increases, in part by advocating for using sales taxes and hotel taxes to make up the difference.
Even chapters that aren’t yet dealing with these individual issues are likely to face similar concerns in the future. It’s important to be proactive; some chapters are using newsletters to inform members about important issues. One chapter is considering returning to snail-mailing important reminders, because members may pay more attention to an actual first-class letter than an email. Within Pennsylvania, NAIOP Philadelphia is considering ways to partner with NAIOP Pittsburgh so they can jointly promote pro-growth policies in the state capital.
Elected leaders need to hear what’s important to CRE. NAIOP members are taking risks to grow the economy. They also need to partner to make sure their voices are being heard in the halls of government. NAIOP chapters are making that happen. One way to help them do an even better job is to bring local chapter leaders together to discuss key issues in their areas.
Rich Tucker is Director of Public Policy Communications at NAIOP, where he develops and executes communication strategies to raise the visibility of NAIOP’s advocacy work on behalf of the industry