Are you really going to let *that* stop you? #MTLeg

Inside the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Creative Commons License photo credit: o palsson

As the Montana legislature kicks into gear this month, the air is heavy with the rhetoric of mandates, use of the word “exponential growth” by those who don’t understand (or intentionally misuse) the word, and of course…. jobs.

While I don’t agree with all that our various governments do, I really can’t think of a single time that any of them have prevented me from getting a new customer, hiring someone or for that matter, firing someone.

But that’s me. Maybe the business I’m in just hasn’t been targeted for regulation as yet.

Be careful what you wish for

If I owned a wine store, I’d feel a little differently about that “not being targeted” thing, since we have laws in Montana that prevent the shipment of wine to retail customers.

The idea is that it protects Montana business owners from evil out of state discounters. What legislators and those who asked for this law apparently forgot is that it also prevents those same Montana businesses from expanding their market beyond reasonable driving distance of their stores.

Look at Gary Vaynerchuk’s business, Wine Library.

When Gary took on his father’s store, it was a small, but successful ($4MM-5MM annually) wine business.

With the help of a gregarious personality, a knack for social media and some sharp video-based online marketing – Gary’s business has created a pile of jobs and increased the business ten times in a few years. His business’ growth feeds the growth of his suppliers as well, both in New Jersey and elsewhere, so it isn’t just a benefit to his business.

While I have no doubt that a retailer here in Montana could create a thriving business like Gary’s, at present you can’t grow it the same way (mail order and ecommerce) because it’s illegal to ship (or receive) retail wine purchases by mail (etc) in Montana.

That *doesn’t* mean that you can’t use those same strategies (in some other way) to grow your business in-state AND make some efforts to convince the legislature that the law hurts business opportunity and thus prevents job growth right here in Montana.

Those kids, again

Speaking of being targeted, you probably remember my mentions of the CPSIA, which adds substantial costs to youth product manufacturing due to new (and highly technical) testing and labeling requirements.

Those costs are borne more heavily on a piece-by-piece basis by small manufacturers because of their small batch sizes. For many, a batch is ONE. The result has been that it put people out of business because testing costs shot their economic model to pieces.

Viewing the situation from a legislator’s perspective, CPSIA makes sense – especially after all the Chinese toy issues that arose during Christmas 2007. Absent information from constituents who thought beyond Mattel-sized problems, we got a law that – once again – hurts jobs/businesses in Montana.

In fact, all the CPSIA really needed was something similar to Senator Tester’s amendment to the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). While the amendment wasn’t popular with large food producers, the farmer with 1/4 acre of onions who sells only to local restaurants and open-air markets simply couldn’t comply and stay in business. Tester understood the issue because he owns a small farm, and because he likely got an earful at home.

Small manufacturers in the youth industry had no such Congressional champion with industry knowledge. In fact, when I questioned my Congressman about it, his response (in a public forum) was 180 degrees different from his vote on the matter. Either he misunderstood or lied, but it doesn’t matter much now as the damage is done.

Overall, those affected by this law did a poor job of monitoring what was going on in Washington and as a result, failed to communicate the real impact of the law to the appropriate people.

“Easy for you to say”

Of course, this monitoring and communication is far easier to say than it is to do.

These CPSIA and wine shipping situations simply illustrates the importance of the difficult and time consuming work that’s necessary to keep representatives at all levels informed about the impact of what they are doing.

The difficulty of that work is what prompts new organizations like the Handmade Toy Alliance to form.

Your job – and the job of organizations like the HTA – is to find each other so that you can help one another adapt, overcome and push on – no matter what crazy thing happens in the state house or in DC.

Changing what you do is one thing. Don’t quit trying. Just quit trying the wrong things.

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