VSI’s Advocacy Program Building a Winning Tradition for the Benefit of the Industry
It all started with a big win in North Carolina in 2015. And this opened the door to more program-building triumphs over the next four years in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Then, in 2019, they even had the nerve to mess with Texas – and they won there, too! In 2022, they are hopeful that Georgia will be next.
The program we’re talking about is not a college football team, and the games are not being played in packed stadiums with the pageantry of passionate fans, cheerleaders and marching bands. We’re talking about the Vinyl Siding Institute’s (VSI) Advocacy Program, and the games take place primarily in state capitol buildings, where the battles are just as tough as the gridiron, taking on lobbyists and legislators who have a tendency to resist change – especially when existing local industries feel threatened.
The wins noted above are legislative reforms that prohibit local municipalities from banning the use of any materials – like vinyl siding and related polymeric products – that have been approved by national and international code-governing bodies.
According to Alex Fernandez, VSI’s Director of Advocacy, the real winners in these respective states are home buyers, home builders, distributors and specifiers.
But make no doubt it’s also a big win for VSI.
“Over the last three years, we have come to be considered by NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) and local Home Builders Association (HBA) chapters as the experts on this topic,” Fernandez explained.
We’ve crafted a formula for advocacy that’s highly effective. We learn about a problem, a barrier to trade in a particular state and then we approach the state and local HBA chapter, and partner with them on how to best achieve the desired changes in the law. We bring the language, the expertise and finally - if necessary – reinforcements in the form of a local lobbyist.
The VSI has created an advocacy program that, according to Fernandez, will outlast them all. It’s designed to protect VSI member manufacturers’ interests as well as open the door for allies from other materials producers to join the fight.
“Right now, the appetite is there for anyone who wants to make housing more affordable and housing construction and renovation to be more efficient,” Fernandez explained. “In other words, we don’t want government interference in sourcing affordable materials that are also code-compliant. Government interference in this regard has caused housing prices to soar.”
Tips to Gain Strength at the Local Level
To seize on these favorable political conditions, VSI recommends the following tips for VSI members and other industry professionals to help advocate for market conditions in their communities and throughout their states:
- Call VSI! Fernandez maintains that the only way VSI knows there are restrictions to using polymeric siding is if a member calls VSI directly to describe the specific problem. There may even be states where the law already bans any prohibitions on materials that are compliant with the building code. However, local governments could still impose unfair or even unlawful practices to prevent home builders from using vinyl siding. Therefore, members and their customers are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org if they encounter any barriers to trade caused by government interference.
- Continuously improve upon your local involvement. VSI members are already engaging with local distributors and developers through their sales and customer service teams. As part of their systems, Fernandez recommends asking these local groups probing questions about materials they are not buying due to state or local government restrictions.“We can help with the language and the series of questions can be the purpose of the call,” said Fernandez. “They can even leverage their marketing resources to add a promotional or gamification element. Telling them about our winning formula for legislative change is like you’re providing prospects and customers with a value-added service that will help them develop new business.”
- Share information about VSI’s advocacy efforts. As Fernandez stresses, these bans on modern materials impact the entire home building industry. He says we all can do a better job of educating customers and stakeholders not only on VSI’s legislative work, but on VSI’s other advocacy feats, like its new publication on best practices for specifying architectural polymers, and its work in codes and product certification to drive market development. Promoting these efforts will encourage more meaningful conversations and word-of-mouth about why everyone should care about state and local laws banning code-compliant materials.
Every trade organization keeps an eye on the legislative agenda in the states where they operate,” Fernandez explained. “Because of our size, we rely on the home builders to keep us informed. For this reason, I would love to see our members host quarterly ‘lunch & learns’ with home builders in that market to find out what’s happening with the bills in that state. They can also share the news about our progress in other states and in other aspects of our advocacy work to create excitement and inspire action from these local stakeholders.
VSI’s Advocacy Program strives to achieve at least one state legislative reform passed per year – and they are currently working hard in Georgia, Indiana and Minnesota. To continue this winning streak, Fernandez believes strongly that the industry must be less reactionary and more proactive. And the best approach is for members to keep finding new ways to improve communication and collaboration with customers and players in local markets who already have their ears to the rail when it comes to legislative developments.
“Getting involved at the local level is the only way to guarantee success,” Fernandez said. “We look forward to working with members on putting winning systems in place.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.