Though I expected my fellow NUCA members to rise to the occasion, I am pleasantly surprised and happy to report that NUCA’s first-ever virtual Washington Summit was more of a success than I anticipated. Not only did more members than average participate, but early signs also indicate that our contacts with our lawmakers and staffs were very positively received.
When NUCA’s leadership made the decision last spring to forego the in-person Washington Summit in favor a wholly virtual event out of caution for our attendee’s safety, we also knew that the issues we needed to discuss with Congress were too important to set aside for the year. It looks to me like we all made the correct decision.
The utility construction industry was deemed “essential” by the federal government in March when the coronavirus struck our nation. There’s a very good reason why the Dept. of Homeland Security listened to our lobbyists arguing to keep our businesses going: the projects we construct for the American economy and our communities are essential in preserving our American way of life.
To that end, we chose “essential infrastructure” as the primary message we wanted to take to Congress. Our volunteer leadership and NUCA staff put our minds together to work out a solution that would allow our members to relay this important message to a Congress that closed its doors to the public. And so was born the virtual Washington Summit.
The Sept. 23 virtual event worked better than anticipated. We had 142 people register for the event, more than the 2019 Summit. Our Chapters worked very hard to schedule over 75 online meetings with their member’s federal lawmakers and staffs. We were also able to hold about 15 online meetings with the elected lawmakers themselves, making our points known and offering our expertise to their office. Our Nebraska delegation was even able to talk to their Senator, Deb Fischer, for over 45 minutes, something that rarely happens during a fast-paced Capitol Hill meeting schedule.
Infrastructure continues to occupy lawmaker’s minds as this Congressional session comes to close. We will have another year to talk to them about the FAST Act, the nation’s surface transportation law that needs to be reauthorized before Sept. 30, 2021. We will have numerous chances in the upcoming Congress to remind lawmakers that the pipes we lay, the conduit we run, and the wastewater control structures our communities demand, are not building themselves. Our industry makes these vital infrastructure projects a reality, but we need the resources to make them happen. That’s Congress’s job.
We did our job at the Summit explaining why we’re “essential.” But even though the Summit has come and gone, that doesn’t mean our job is over. We all need to commit to reaching out to our elected officials throughout the year, to remind them we’re still here, and to make clear that we intend to hold them to their commitments. Let’s build upon the strong foundation we poured at this year’s Summit in 2021 and finish the project.