My introduction to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) was through the International CES, which, for many in the tech industry, serves as a yearly pilgrimage to see what’s new and coming in consumer electronics.
What many don’t realize is that CEA isn’t merely a single-minded trade organization that just puts on a yearly show for the press. While CES is an incredible event, where the business of the world is kicked off each year, CEA works tirelessly to help steward the world’s business. That is to say, public policy, legislative, regulatory, and other concerns — government affairs in general — are the major bread and butter of the organization.
I have had the good fortune to be a part of the CEA for the last several years. I’ve been involved in the Small Business Council, Entrepreneur’s Club and the Board of Industry Leaders. The hours in a day are finite and we all have to choose carefully how we spend our time, but I can say with absolute certainty that having been involved in this organization has been one of the most worthwhile uses of my time, particularly as a small business owner.
Of particular note for me have been the opportunities to participate in legislative efforts.
Small companies are disproportionately affected by any legislation passed through Congress, and yet, too often, they have the smallest voice. Very few small businesses have the budget or time to be on top of the regulatory issues that affect them, and usually only find out about onerous laws after they’ve already come to pass. This is particularly unfortunate since small business in this country collectively represents the largest number of jobs and the largest impact to the bottom line of the U.S. economy.
Participation in a democracy requires more than merely voting for your representative. It requires making your positions known to those in office — to offer support to those who agree with your position, to turn those who disagree around to your position, or at least to have them better understand your views. To make an effort to make sure, regardless of what your political leanings are, that the laws put in place foster innovation and competitiveness in our country, work toward making it easier for businesses to grow and thrive — to innovate, to hire, to produce, and, ultimately, to keep the world’s greatest engine of innovation and prosperity primed to enrich the lives of not only us as Americans, but on a global scale as well.
Lofty ideals and rhetoric aside, business owners cannot ignore the laws that are passed with or without their consent. Passage or failure of bills in Congress depends on more than just one or two votes from our representatives or senators.
CEA provides an opportunity for small businesses to engage in the legislative process through lobby days, where members can visit Washington with a lobbyist and visit their representatives to discuss the issues affecting their business. They provide a platform upon which to discuss the issues relevant to the industry, and engage with everyone in congress, not just a small subset.
I personally have met with my representatives, and those of my colleagues in the industry, both in person and with their staff, and have been able to have good, informed conversation with them about the issues affecting my business directly, which would have been difficult to arrange otherwise. I have been able to forge more personal relationships with them, and meet other people in my industry who have similar issues that we can work together on to collectively address.
The fights against SOPA and PIPA, skilled immigration reform, and patent reform are some of the few that I personally have been involved with through CEA — and am proud to be able to say that I participated in the process to prevent poor legislation, and promote good policy.
Much like an email isn’t the same as a phone call, and a phone call isn’t a substitute for an in person meeting, visiting your congressman to advocate for your position is the ideal approach. However, there are opportunities to get involved in other ways, through virtual lobby days, emailing and calling your representatives’ office, which CEA makes very easy.
I urge any business owner involved in consumer electronics to get involved with CEA. The networking, business opportunities are second to none, and the opportunity to help make a difference in government are both well worth the investment of a little time.
Enrique Muyshondt is president of DesktopFab.
CEA’s Small Business Council will hold its next Lobby Day on April 30. If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved, contact Deb Kassoff, firstname.lastname@example.org