Local business leaders attend White House economy briefing

Local business leaders attend White House economy briefing
White House briefing

Business leaders from Madison attended a White House Business Council briefing Monday to talk about local perspective on national economic issues.

The briefing covered small business investment, the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, immigration, exports and how to create jobs and accelerate economic recovery, according to a release.

Business leaders called on Congress and the White House to avoid more last-minute budget deals, arguing that uncertainty over recent “fiscal cliffs” is slowing sales and hiring, according to a release from Business Forward, an organization that brings business leaders to Washington to attend briefings.

Mary Turke, office managing partner of Michael Best and Friedrich LLP, said she was invited as a member of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce board.

This is the first year chamber members have been invited to attend the briefing with Obama administration advisers, Turke said. There were between 50 and 60 business leaders from mostly Midwest states who participated in the round-table session.

“This was a unique opportunity for chamber members large and small to deliver feedback from our local business community to the highest levels of the federal government,” said Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. “The Greater Madison region was invited to the national stage to share our story. It is exactly where we want to be.”

Different advisers briefed the group on a policy agenda item the Obama administration is working on, and the business leaders had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments, Turke said.

“My perspective is representing businesses in the state as a lawyer, so my interest is what my client’s interest is,” Turke said.

The information about the Affordable Care Act was a hot topic with the business leaders, she said. The advisers told the group the ACA is not going to decrease rising health care costs, but it will slow the rate at which costs are rising.

Another popular topic with the business leaders was immigration reform, Turke said. A lot of businesses seemed in favor of a bill that would change the immigration system.

“There were a lot of questions around hiring more people and hiring documented workers,” Turke said. “Everyone mostly agrees immigration reform should help get the economy moving, would increase productivity and help the economy grow.”

Turke said it was interesting to see all of the well-educated people working to advise the Obama administration, but thinks there is a disconnect between the advisers and the political side of the administration.

“We could give them our perspective, but it seems like more is needed than just talking about it,” Turke said. “It would benefit if there was more interaction between businesses and the executive branch.”

Wayne Harris, president of 6AM Marketing, said it was nice to be in a forum with people who could take his comments back to the administration.

“From a small business standpoint, it was an opportunity to talk about issues that were of some importance to me,” Harris said.

Harris said he brought up a proposal being considered that would allow business owners to only deduct 50 percent of their advertising costs. He said that cut might cause companies to cut back on their marketing.

“It was nice to a have a forum to discuss that; nice to talk about concerns and potential consequences,” Harris said. “They hear from thousands of people and if my voice resonates with what they’ve heard from others, then I think it’s one more voice.”

Local business leaders who attended were John Rainbolt, senior manager of public affairs at Alliant Energy; Jack Salzwedel, chairman and CEO of American Family Mutual Insurance Co.; Scott Seymour, vice president of government affairs and compliance at American Family Mutual Insurance Co.; Diane Ballweg, vice president of Endres Manufacturing; Marsha Lindsay, CEO of Lindsay, Stone and Briggs Inc.; Brandon, Harris and Turke.

The council briefing included presentations from high-level White House officials including the U.S. chief information officer, the special assistant to the president and director of private sector engagement, the special assistant to the president for manufacturing policy, the senior policy director for immigration and the assistant secretary for administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.