Reaching “The Tipping Point”

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What it takes to maintain momentum on Capitol Hill.

By Brandon Vervelde

Malcolm Gladwell wrote his book “The Tipping Point” in 2000, and it became a major success. In it, Gladwell theorized that for major social changes to happen, there must first be enough adopters of the new ideology, practice, trend or fad. Moreover, the adopters must have certain characteristics that allow them to wield substantially more influence than the average person. Once that magic number of influential adopters was reached, Gladwell’s theory stated that social change would be rapidly adopted by the rest of society.

Take, for example, the seemingly rapid adoption of fads, such as 2016’s mannequin challenge. In a few months, that fad went from relative obscurity to the hottest game to play at parties or in public. Everyone from celebrities to the president of the United States played along. (If you’re like me and almost forgot about the mannequin challenge, it’s when a group of people stand perfectly still – like mannequins – while one person walks through the group recording a video.) Somewhere along the line, the idea found the right number of adopters with outsized amounts of influence – the Tipping Point – and it was adopted by the masses.

Gladwell’s book is still prescient in 2017, especially when it comes to the glacially slow (by our 21st century standards) pace of making laws in Congress.

In May, nearly 500 members of AAHOA and the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) went to Washington, D.C., to talk to lawmakers about the issues affecting the hotel industry for the organizations’ joint Legislative Action Summit. For those who’ve attended over the years, the slate of issues probably seemed remarkably similar to last year’s. And the year before that.

So why do we continue to do it?

Gladwell’s Tipping Point theory helps explain how Congress approaches writing laws, especially sweeping, impactful changes to an industry or regulation. And it helps explain why coming to the nation’s Capitol again and again, and talking about the same issues over and over, is necessary.

What we’re trying to do, every time we talk to a representative, senator or their staff about our priorities, is to maintain any momentum we have on the issue and gain additional support and enthusiasm for it.
In the end, we hope to keep the pressure on the lawmakers who support the bill to keep working, talking to their colleagues and influencing the other lawmakers with whom they work closely. For those on the fence, we hope to get them on our side. For those opposed to the bill, we hope to persuade them using our stories and facts to either withdraw their vocal opposition or become undecided.

That’s Gladwell’s theory in action. Eventually, through a combination of hard work, perseverance, dedication and a little bit of luck, we reach the magical number – the Tipping Point – and all of a sudden our bill speeds forward.
And that’s exactly what happened in December 2015. In the inaugural issue of this magazine, we recounted the saga of AAHOA’s effort to renew the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 loan refinancing program.

The program originated in the Small Business Jobs Act signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in September 2010. The program was launched in 2011 but expired in September 2012 due to a sunset clause.
During the short time the program was alive, it was a major success.

“In 2011 and 2012, more than 2,700 small businesses refinanced nearly $7 billion in old, expensive debt, encouraging job creation and reinvestment,” Brian Kaissi wrote in April 2016 for Today’s Hotelier. Out of those 2,700 participants, there was only a single default.

AAHOA’s effort to restart the program began in 2013, with Rep. Judy Chu (D, Calif.) introducing the measure on March 18. In all of 2013 and 2014, there seemed to be no discernible progress, save for a companion bill introduced by then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D, La.).

“When the bill did not move… AAHOA members, industry advocates and pro-small business elected officials continued to persevere,” Kaissi wrote. AAHOA and other supporting groups renewed the effort in 2015. Chu reintroduced the bill and found a new Senate sponsor in Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D, N.H.) after Landrieu’s 2014 election defeat.

AAHOA and AH&LA joined forces in the 2015 Legislative Action Summit and highlighted the issue to lawmakers for the third year in a row. AAHOA redoubled the efforts at the Fall National Advocacy Conference in October.

Again, it seemed like all the meetings, materials and talking points were up against the brick wall of Congress.

Finally, in December 2015, the bill was incorporated as an amendment into the must-pass government funding bill. Years of effort culminated in a few days of negotiation, and, in a burst of activity, the tipping point was reached. The bill was passed and signed into law. The loan program was reauthorized permanently.

The result was a big win for small businesses across the country and a feather in the cap of AAHOA’s efforts in government affairs. But the win is also a lesson and reminder that we need to continually keep in mind.

When it comes to urging Congress to act on our priorities, it’s not about convincing one lawmaker to take our side. It’s about creating the critical mass of lawmakers on our side. Yes, that means we work on the same issue again and again. Sometimes that means incessantly reaching out to lawmakers with the same talking points and materials.

But, keeping our eyes set on Gladwell’s Tipping Point, we know that the little actions we’re taking at the Legislative Action Summit and the Fall National Advocacy Conference have a cumulative effect. Someday, hopefully soon, we’ll make it to the tipping point and be able to look back on years’ worth of meetings and work and realize it all added up to the bill’s passage and signing into law. ■

Brandon VerVelde is director of Government Affairs Communication for AAHOA and can be reached at brandon@aahoa.com.

AAHOA’s Fall National Advocacy Conference is taking place October 24-25 in Washington, D.C. For more information or to register, visit AAHOA.com.

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