MeetingsNet’s 2022 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2022 Changemakers list here.
Vice President, Government Affairs, Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance
For spearheading the meetings and events industry’s Legislative Action Week, which in 2022 pushed the U.S. Congress to understand the industry’s challenges from Covid and enact change
When the Go LIVE Together coalition that launched in 2020 with support from nine industry associations evolved into the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance in 2021, it needed a full-time person with experience on Capitol Hill to maximize its effectiveness at lobbying for the meetings and events sector. Fortunately, Tommy Goodwin was available.
With 20-plus years of experience in government relations, public affairs, and issue advocacy for organizations as varied as AARP, the Project Management Institute, and Oracle Corporation, Goodwin was recognized in 2020 by The Hill as one of the top association lobbyists. And when he accepted the job as vice president of government affairs for ECA, progress quickly followed.
Over the course of a little more than a year, this lone employee of ECA—who reports to 13 board members from the nine supporting organizations—has led the effort to have Congress assist the industry in recovering from its Covid hiatus and get back to being the economic powerhouse it’s been for large and small cities nationwide. In 2019, the business-events industry generated domestic revenues totaling $211 billion; that number is expected to be $322 billion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research.
The most recent win for Goodwin and ECA was an additional $13 billion in relief secured for small businesses, many of which serve the events industry, in a House bill that had already earmarked $42 billion in relief for restaurants and caterers. However, the effort was not complete until Goodwin and other industry heavy hitters spoke with several U.S. Senators and their staffs during ECA’s second-ever Legislative Action Week, which took place from June 6 to 10. Without enough support in the Senate, the bill won’t become law.
“When our efforts began a couple years ago, it was very clear that Congress just didn’t understand our industry,” Goodwin says. “They hadn’t heard our story and what we contribute in terms of economic impact and jobs. But many of them get it now; their staffs are actually repeating our talking points and data back to us. It is incumbent upon us to capitalize on this moment and help policymakers understand how they can contribute to our rebound.”
In fact, Legislative Action Week focused on other steps Congress could take to benefit meetings and events: the restoration of the Employee Retention Tax Credit; restoring communicable-disease coverage to event-cancellation insurance; and supporting the full restoration of visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide so that international exhibitors and delegates from more countries can get visas quickly enough to attend U.S. conferences and trade shows.
For that last goal, “we’re lobbying to have the State Department ramp things up by using technology—let’s do applicant interviews via video. Let’s find ways to identify who needs less security screening and who’s applying for renewal versus a new visa. Just expediting things wherever possible, because there are so many U.S. shows that typically have 20 or 30 percent international attendees and exhibitors that are getting crushed right now [because of visa backlogs]. We are going to stay on top of this issue, especially as the country goes from pandemic phase to endemic phase with Covid.”
The biggest obstacle Goodwin faces in trying to bring change to the meetings and events sector: “Ten years ago, the average tenure of a House of Representatives staff member was 19 months,” Goodwin notes. “Today, it’s 14 months. That means we have to keep educating them, even in offices where we have already made inroads. It’s about keeping up relationships by having a consistent presence and knowing that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. My job, now and into the future, is to keep squeaking.”