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Who needs government relations? We do! - by Kelly Bingel, Owner Dynamic Gymnastics

As a former newspaper reporter and U.S. Senate Chief of Staff who then lobbied for a decade, I’m acutely aware that most people reading this article know far more about gymnastics than me. I’m grateful for a phenomenal management and coaching staff at Dynamic Gymnastics who run our operations on a day to day basis. I try to stay out of their way until my skill set is helpful.

In the five years Dynamic has been open in Northern Virginia, I’ve called our congressman, U.S. Senator, state legislators and County Board members at least a dozen times to ask for help as a small businesswoman and voter. My career on Capitol Hill taught me that those calls for help shouldn’t be the first time those elected officials hear from me. And I recommend you get to know your elected officials as well -- before you need anything.

Our industry is regulated at the local, state and federal level so it’s important to know the people who set the policies that impact us. Most of them like to learn about our business, many have to learn how those policies affect us. Who doesn’t like to talk about inspiring kids to achieve their personal best?

Each elected official that I’ve contacted has been in my neighborhood for an event. I’ve met them in friends’ backyards and living rooms. I recommend making an appointment to stop in to visit with the elected and bureaucratic officials who regulate you at the local level. Tell them what you as a small business person deal with and what you’re seeing children dealing with each day. Have ideas about changes that might help? Share them.

The unspeakable Larry Nassar abuse stories have painted all of our sport in a negative light nationally as well. Every member of Congress and Senator has thought about our sport this year. Send an email to the scheduler for your congressman and Senators. In the email tell the scheduler you’d like to talk about trends that you’re seeing in the sport, about your efforts to keep children safe and any other issue you’d like to discuss, which could include changes to tax laws impacting our ability to depreciate equipment. If the scheduler says the Member of Congress can’t meet, follow up with a request to meet with the State or District Director.

Each of us is in the customer service business so we know relationships are important.

What has prompted my calls to my local, state and federal officials? When we built our second facility, the contractor hit a gas line while digging the footing for our ADA compliant ramp. Miss Utility had mislabeled the location of the lines. The local gas company charged me $3,000 to relocate the line. I protested the fine with the gas company, paid the bill and then called my congressman’s office to ask him to intercede on my behalf. I explained that the consumer is not in the best position to know where gas lines are. That’s the gas company’s job. So if they make a mistake, the consumer shouldn’t have to pay. With their help, we got a refund from the gas company.

Here’s another example: our County government bought a parcel of land that included our original leased building. The County hadn’t decided what to do with the $30 million parcel so I worked hard with the County Board and the bureaucracy to let us extend our stay until they decided what to do with the building. I talked with all 5 Board members and the County Manager at charity breakfasts and lunches. They were waffling because they said the County isn’t in the business of a being a landlord. I wrote them with examples of other places the County serves as landlord. Then, while talking with our County Board Chairman and our congressman at an event, I asked the congressman - a former businessman - to explain to the County Board Chairman why it made sense for the County to keep us as a rent- and tax-paying tenant. We got to stay in our building through the rest of our competitive season. These stories are more local level issues. But other gym owners I have talked to needed help from federal officials in securing a small business loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA), a work visa for a valued non-citizen coach, or disaster assistance funds from FEMA when their business flooded.

You don’t have to be a former government employee or good at cocktail parties to build these relationships. If you’re uncertain how to start building these relationships or get more aware of government actions or if you are just really shy about doing it on your own then consider starting by joining your local chamber of commerce or other local, state or national small business organizations like the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). Organizations like these, and USAG itself, track legislation and regulations and court rulings that could impact your business, alert their members and are a great source of information on how to comply with various regulations. They also organize meet & greets with officials and advocacy events.

If you don’t think the actions or inactions of government officials can impact your business, it’s just because it hasn’t happened to you yet. Consider yourself lucky, but luck is not a long term strategy. Would you fail to carry worker’s comp insurance just because you haven’t had an employee accident -yet? And you shouldn’t wait to think about a plan to engage government just because you haven’t needed it -yet. I hope all of you (and me) can spend 99% of our time on gymnastics trends and operations without worrying about anything related to government actions. But it pays to be ready for that other 1%.