Q&A With Eric Dell, Senior Vice President Of External Affairs At NAMA

July 15, 2019

Q: Eric, tell us a little about your background.

A: Previously, I worked on Capitol Hill as chief of staff for a congressional member. Before that I practiced law, and kind of grew up working in politics. I’ve been at NAMA since 2013. I managed government affairs at NAMA, and for the last three years I've managed external affairs, which is our government affairs team as well as our public affairs team, our business development function and our membership function.

Q: This is the fifth year for the Fly-In. How is it different this year?

A: I helped establish the first [Fly-In], and this year, we've expanded it to also include the [Advocacy] Summit, which is really a public policy summit. We’re expanding the reach in terms of policy, and we’re really getting more targeted and professional in our work around advocacy for the attendees so we make the best use of their time and talents. For example, we have attendees who have a background in energy and refrigeration, so we’re using them to assist us on Capitol Hill with meetings around refrigeration. We're trying to laser target how to use industry leaders’ expertise to help the industry as effectively as possible.

Q: What was the rationale for creating the Advocacy Summit in advance of the Fly-In and meetings on Capitol Hill?

A: Before I was at NAMA, they had started the public policy conference, which was a board activity in the fourth quarter of the year. When we added the Fly-In, the Fly-In was really the component that brought the broader industry in to meet with members of Congress on Capitol Hill. And the public policy conference was our work that we did with federal agencies with our leadership on the board. It was two different settings, and we’ve brought those together for one bigger summit, which adds more value to the broader membership to be able to come in and learn and be involved in the agency work as well. Because the federal government obviously has lots of agencies that touch our work — and that touch the industry — we’re happy to have a broader group of folks being able to talk to those agency officials and learn from them. 

Q: Please let us know about Operation Backpack and the involvement this year in the Fly-In.

A: A few years ago, we decided to add a "giving back"  part of our event so we could give back to the community through this event. We partnered with Operation Backpack, a program of Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that provides school supplies and backpacks to children of military families. We will have members of Congress and our members come in to stuff those backpacks. In past years, we've had some military families and children there as well, which is really cool, because you get to see the recipients of the backpacks. It's a great way to give back. 

Q: Are there new participants in the Fly-In this year, in addition to NAMA members?

A: I would say the expanded new participants of record for this year — in addition to new operators and suppliers and members of NAMA —is that we have a more representative community from the D.C.-based food and beverage community. In essence, we partner in D.C. food and beverage associations — including the American Beverage Association, Snack Food Association, National Confectioners Association -- organizations that touch our industry. We have expanded our involvement from partner organizations in D.C. in our food and beverage community, which helps us throughout the year when our members go back home. We work with these food and beverage executives and other associations throughout the year. Having them participate in a bigger way at the Fly-In gives us more clout within that community, and it helps the industry overall.

Q: Industry networking and peer-to-peer learning is always a highlight of the Fly-In and NAMA signature events in general. Is that one of the goals of new elements like the Cruise on Monday evening?

A: Yes. A few years ago, participants said they loved coming and wanted more networking around the event, other than just going to Capitol Hill and meeting with legislators. So, we have more networking so we can see our customers. The suppliers want to see the operators and do some business while they're here in addition to the ultimate reason they are here, which is advocacy. We usually try to do a D.C.-only event that is exclusive to the Fly-In. A couple of years ago we did a nighttime tour of the monuments; one time we did a tour of the U.S. Capitol at night. This year we have the boat cruise on Monday.

Q: What would you say to first-timers coming to the Fly-In? Any special advice?

A: I would say, first of all, don’t be nervous about going to Capitol Hill and meeting with your member of Congress or their staff. These meetings are very open, cordial and relaxed. The other is to have fun during the process, and to learn. 

Q: Finally, re-defining the Fly-In keeps it a fresh, new experience. Please summarize key issues including the Drive Safe Act and taxation that will be addressed by members during meetings with elected officials.

A: When we go to Capitol Hill, we want to talk to legislators about issues that impact our industry. One that we’ll talk about this year is the Drive Safe Act. There is a shortage of truck drivers in the country, and we’ll be talking about Drive Safe Act, which will hopefully help alleviate some problems around having a shortage of drivers and make some more flexibility around getting a driver's license to drive an 18-wheeler to deliver food and beverages around the country, as well as other products to expand the marketplace for drivers of trucks. The other is taxation issues for small business. A majority of the industry are small businesses, and there's tax legislation that we will be lobbying for that will reduce the tax burden on small businesses and streamline some of the tax processes for small business. We’ll be advocating for both of those on Capitol Hill during the meetings with elected officials.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: It’s going to be a great success! We’ve got a good crowd coming; we have over 250 participants registered, and we're hoping to hit a real high on the participation rate.


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National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA)

May 7, 2009
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