NRF Legislator of the Year says Congress needs more members from private sector

As a second-generation car dealer, Representative Mike Kelly says there’s one overriding concern he shares with retailers across the country twice each month —  making sure there’s enough money in the bank to cover payroll for his employees.

“We have 150 people we pay every two weeks, and they are our family,” Kelly said. “I’m talking about when the times are really tough … what do I have to do today to make sure that all these wonderful folks who come in actually get a paycheck?”

Unfortunately, he said, most of his colleagues in Congress have never run a business and are quick to make policy without considering the effect on retailers or other businesses. “If we don’t get more people from the private sector coming and serving,” he added, “then we cannot change this.”

Kelly, who owns the Mike Kelly Automotive Inc. dealership outside Pittsburgh in Butler, Pa., and represents the state’s Third Congressional District, was named NRF’s Legislator of the Year on Wednesday during the annual Retail Advocates Summit congressional fly-in. The fourth-term Republican is a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, where he serves on the tax, trade and Social Security subcommittees.

Kelly was chosen for the award by the NRF Policy Council because of his support of pro-growth tax reform and his opposition to a controversial border adjustment tax proposal that would drive up prices for consumers and potentially force some retailers out of business.

The businessman-turned-congressman said the negative impact of the BAT plan —  which would impose a 20 percent tax on all imported products —  is clear at his car dealership, which sells vehicles from domestic makers Chevrolet and Cadillac that can include imported parts alongside models from Hyundai and Kia — two “foreign” companies that make cars in the United States.

NRF Legislator of the Year: Congress needs more members from private sector

“I’m always concerned about price points whether it’s a good or a service and what it’s going to do to consumers because they’re already stretched so thin,” he said. “When you put the 20 percent tariff on it, what is this going to do to the price?”

The award was presented to Kelly as the more than 200 retailers on hand for the summit prepared to head out across Capitol Hill in two dozen teams for a day of over 150 advocacy meetings with members of the House and Senate from almost three dozen states. He urged the small business owners, national retail chain executives and state retail association officials alike to let lawmakers know how decisions made in Washington affect their businesses.

The summit is the retail industry’s largest advocacy event of the year; most of the same retailers heard from Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday as he pledged to help pass pro-growth economic policy. CNBC television commentator and economic analyst Larry Kudlow spoke Tuesday night, and Trudy Trombley, owner of Truly Trudy’s Boutique in Stowe, Vt., was named America’s Retail Champion for her advocacy efforts on retail issues at the state and federal level. Nebraska Retail Federation President Jim Otto was presented with the J. Thomas Weyant Award, which is given for service to state retail associations.

Also on Wednesday, the NRF Board of Directors met privately with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and chose Macy’s Executive Chairman Terry Lundgren as its new chairman. Lundgren replaces former HSNi CEO Mindy Grossman, who resigned from the board after leaving retail to head Weight Watchers. Joining the board as new members were Sam’s Club President and CEO John Furner, QVC Inc. President and CEO Mike George, Total Wine and More CEO Adam Orvos and Petco CEO Brad Weston.

The three-day conference also brought retailers up to date on issues facing the industry through in-depth briefings by NRF lobbyists, and included meetings of state retail executives, the National Council of Chain Restaurants Board of Directors, the NRF Policy Council and NRF committees on international trade and supply chain.