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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wendy Riemann: Advantageous Advocacy: Respecting time

Thomas Edison once said, “Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can't afford to lose.”

Most elected officials and government appointees would probably agree.

Time is a precious commodity, particularly in government service. Wasting it is neither appreciated nor easily forgotten. From the moment many officials step into their office (and sometimes before) until they leave, they can be booked back-to-back. If they have a great scheduler, they may get to eat lunch and take a few bathroom breaks on lighter days! Officials and appointees often do their reading, writing, genuine thinking, and “real work” outside of normal business hours because it is uninterrupted.

They are generally pleased to meet with constituent groups, however groups should always be respectful of time. On average, most groups receive around 15 to 30 minutes for a meeting, so it should be used advantageously. First, do not be late. It is disrespectful, may subconsciously indicate a lack of commitment to the cause, and can either back-up the official’s day or prevent the group from receiving the full meeting time.

A group’s poor organizational skills is no excuse for impacting someone else’s schedule. Prepare for security lines. Plan for getting lost. Add extra time for parking. Furthermore, a group running late should always call the office (with the number they kept readily available just in case of emergencies).

It is also a good idea to arrive a few minutes early, but not too early. Most government offices do not have much of a waiting area, if any, so lingering voices can become a distraction for the staff trying to work. When several busier Hill staff were asked about day-of requests to bump meeting times up, most preferred groups sticking with the original time. If a group wants to check if the meeting can be moved earlier – even if the meeting is with staff – calling or emailing is preferable to simply showing up.
With that said, prepare to wait. Hearings run long. Problems emerge (especially in state government). Things come up. Officials and appointees do not want to keep a group waiting any more than the group wants to be waiting. If this happens, and multiple meetings are on the group’s schedule, they should be prepared to divide up to avoid being late for other appointments.

Within meetings, Wisconsin Nice requires exchanging pleasantries, but it usually behooves groups to keep introductions short, such as highlighting constituents and explaining the purpose of the meeting. Some leaders will initiate with a “what brings you in today?” Others would love to discuss deer hunting or the Packers for 15 minutes and consider the meeting a success, especially if the alternative topic is not as appealing. The group must remember their meeting’s purpose and help guide the conversation when needed.
To stay on point and time, groups may find working from a prepared agenda helpful, even if they do not share it.

Finally, recognize when the meeting is over. If a staff person gives any cues, the scheduler walks in and out, or the voting bell rings, wrap it up. If the official wants more, they will indicate it. If the scheduler or aide makes a second move, close faster – even consider standing. Trust the staff – they play the bad cop role for a reason.

We all have 24 hours in our day. When an official or appointee makes time for a group, that is time they could be spending doing something else, so respect it by planning ahead and making the meeting worth everyone’s time.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wendy Riemann: Advantageous Advocacy: Honesty is the best policy

WASHINGTON, DC -- Honesty is the best policy... really. At home. At work. When advocating.

Whether it’s an outright lie, a lie by omission, a lie because you didn’t do your homework, or a lie of plausible deniability, where you think the onus should be on the government worker to ultimately fact-check you – it is usually found out – and will sink your efforts.

Little secret: many government offices talk -- even across party lines -- especially in Wisconsin offices where that whole “Midwestern Nice” thing is legit. Staff members form an informal, bipartisan club of sorts and frequently exchange information and questions. While partisan-based anger may be the prevailing attitude across the country right now, most staff, on both sides of the aisle are still diplomatic public servants eager to get the job done and get it done right.

Once a lobbyist came in to see me on behalf of a cause and swore a certain member of Congress was supportive – even said that representative was absolutely endorsing it at an upcoming hearing. My gut told me the lobbyist's issue and the member’s position were probably not on the same page. When the lobbyist left, I picked up the phone, called the member’s aide and asked the office position. That’s when I was told, “No, we made it clear we’re not endorsing it at all. We simply said we could, and would, ask a neutral question on it in the hearing."

Was this a misunderstanding between the lobbyist and the congressional office? Perhaps. But the reason I immediately called to check was because that lobbyist had already lost credibility with me on a similar issue in the past. At this point, ALL credibility was lost, with me, as well as with the member’s aide, who was not surprised this lobbyist was given an inch and tried to sell it for a mile. Two battleships sunk. Oh, and that issue also needed Senate committee support. The Senate committee person responded with, “Yeah, I fact-check everything [lobbyist name] says. I don’t understand why people keep hiring [lobbyist name].”

Three battleships sunk. Two political parties. One lobbyist and a cause that would not be moving quickly.

Government employees many times feel compelled to accept a meeting, at least once, with a lobbyist or group on an issue, whether they like said lobbyist or not (and contrary to what some in the public may believe, most lobbyists that I have encountered are good, honest people with a reasonable cause). What is more, Hill staff often take several meetings with a group. However, that does not mean an aide is always going to encourage or invite the boss to join the meeting, or that the aide will bend over backward to help them if the lobbyist is not trusted. Once credibility is lost, well, that ship has sailed.

I still needed to meet with that lobbyist on other issues. But I no longer gave the benefit of the doubt – only doubt. The trust-but-verify attitude I had when we first met, was now just verify, even when I wanted to engage on the issue.

Bottom line: successful advocacy takes time and requires building relationships and earning trust. It is a marathon, not a sprint, so never, ever, lie. If you unintentionally misrepresent a situation or fact, correct it immediately in the meeting, with a follow-up email, or pick up the phone. If you burn one office, word will spread. Credibility will be ruined with more than one person, and where does that leave you and your issue? Sunk.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. She can be reached at: wendy@1492communications.com.

Monday, February 1, 2016

MaryBeth Matzek: Dairy industry looks to angels

By MaryBeth Matzek
Angel investors could be a catalyst to fund innovation in the dairy industry.

That’s an idea put forward by a team from the UW-Madison’s Department of Dairy Science, Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. and Bunker Labs. Those groups debuted the idea during Dairy Strong 2016: Partners in Progress, an industry event held last month in Madison.

When Stacy Williams and another colleague from Baird attended Dairy Strong in 2015, they saw the potential to gather financial support from both within and outside the dairy industry to fund industry innovations. They then spent the past year thinking about ways to do just that and meeting with people to see if the idea is possible. Williams thinks it is and hopes a fund dedicated to financing industry innovation is up and running by this time next year.

“We’re just starting a dialogue now with the dairy industry and others to see what the interest could be in something like this,” she says. “What’s different about this from some other investment concepts out there is that the potential investors would be the ones to benefit the most from the discoveries.”

While Wisconsin is weak in venture capital funding compared to other states, it is a national leader in angel investing and is already home to an innovative investment model in the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation. The not-for-profit foundation accepts charitable donations to an evergreen fund that then makes equity investments in early-stage companies.

Michael Ertmer of Bunker Labs thinks something similar to BrightStar could be started for the ag industry.

“What we’re proposing is unique -- invest before a company is even formed,” the group’s executive director says. “The current models of investing in research aren’t working the best.”

Heather White, a UW dairy science professor, says it’s all about creating a competitive advantage for Wisconsin and the state’s dairies. Right now, she says other states are investing more heavily in research, whether it comes from industry check-offs or through direct industry support of endowed faculty positions.

“In the current way of doing things, too much time is spent by faculty chasing funds, which slows research productivity,” White says. “We need a major reinvestment to revitalize dairy production and animal production so we can get quicker flow from idea to application.”

White says creating and managing researchers’ intellectual property will be an advantage to all Wisconsin farmers since the time from developing an idea to commercial implementation will be shorter.

“I can also see this as a great way to attract and retain graduate students and researchers” in Wisconsin, White says.

Another possibility is to piggy-back on BrightStar and have an ag-focused fund within that organization, Ertmer says.

“There’s a lot of different ideas and models out there about how we might work it and do the funding, whether it’s a progressive phase model or something else,” he says. “The dairy industry would have input into the problems being looked at and they would be the ones to benefit.”

Williams has already reached out to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which would help with patent development, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Both organizations have shown interest. The next step is to see if individuals or businesses are interested in investing. “We’re still in the exploratory stage, but it’s very exciting,” she says.

Continued high-tech growth:
The Fond du Lac metro area was ranked 8th out of 201 small U.S. metros by the Milken Institute in 2015 for five-year growth in the category of high technology Gross Domestic Products. In 2014, the area ranked 34th out of 179 metro areas.

Local business leaders say the ranking shows a strong and steady growth in high-technology processes being used to produce goods and services. Manufacturing remains strong in Fond du Lac, which is driving that growth, but other industry sectors are also using more technology in their business operations, says Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp.

Long shipping season: The 2015 shipping season on the Bay of Green Bay came to an end Jan. 15, making it the second longest shipping system on record. An early start and late end to the season -- thanks to ideal weather conditions -- and an improving economy helped the port take in 1.97 million metric tons of cement, coal, limestone, petroleum products and salt. That’s down from the 2.3 million metric tons that came through the Port in 2014, says Dean Haen, Brown County Port and Resource Recovery director. But he added anything close to 2 million tons is still a very successful year for shipping.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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