Immigration and tax policies will be important to pay attention to this election season, Regelbrugge says.
Photo: Dreamstime.com

At Cultivate’16 this past July in Columbus, Ohio, AmericanHort Vice President of Industry Advocacy & Research Craig Regelbrugge presented on the importance of politics to the green industry. His presentation didn’t stress choosing one presidential candidate or even one political party. Instead, Regelbrugge spoke about the importance of simply paying attention to what’s happening in the world and making sure the industry has its voice heard when important decisions are made.

Below, Regelbrugge answers a few questions about the current political landscape and how it applies to the green industry.

Craig Regelbrugge
Headshot courtesy of AmericanHort

Greenhouse Management: Why is it important to those in the industry to pay attention to both domestic and international politics?

Craig Regelbrugge: Everybody is frustrated right now because of how dysfunctional our politics seem, but the most straightforward answer is that decisions are being made every single day at all levels of government. In a political system that is fundamentally competitive, every decision that is made is likely to yield winners and losers. If you choose to opt out, you choose to not engage and not be aware and if you don’t take action from time to time, you are essentially choosing to be in a weaker position.

GM: Do you think a lot of people have chosen to opt out in some way?

CR: I do. I think it feels to me like it’s worse than it’s been and I would attribute that to several factors. We’ve been through — and I’m not saying we’re out of it in every respect – a very challenging economic period, and a lot of folks are just hunkered down with their business. Even though the economy has improved, economists tell us that margins in the industry remain very low. No. 2 [is] the growing sense that government isn’t working and growing cynicism around politics generally has fed that. And I think No. 3 is that, in this industry, there’s a major generational and demographic shift going on. The people, with some exceptions, who are still carrying the water for the industry have been around for a while and connected all the dots. I think the challenge we face is how do we constructively engage the next generation and get them involved?

GM: What are some specific issues that you think people in the industry should pay close attention to in the next year or so?

CR: There are several big ticket items that are really also fundamentally important for our industry and will decide if our industry will succeed or struggle.

55 percent of growers say it’s difficult or very difficult to find high-quality hires for their available positions.
Source: 2016 State of the Industry Report

On immigration policy, we have a workforce that is substantially foreign born and probably substantially more than we’d really like to admit that is foreign born and unauthorized. We have existing visa programs, which are important, but are constrained by bureaucracy, cost and dysfunction. You’ve had some of the savviest growers in the industry weather the downturn without owing anyone a dime who are now saying the demand is there to expand their business, but the labor isn’t. They are avoiding growth because of a lack of confidence in having a labor force and sustaining it.

I [would also] say tax policy, not only because it’s important from a positive perspective, but there are also inherent risks. One of those inherent risks is that the quest to simply bring down the top corporate rates sounds good on paper, but in practice, many of the deductions and exemptions that are often targeted have certain special interests. Many of those disproportionally favor small businesses.

But we’re really concerned about some of the downside risks where small businesses pay too heavy a price. There’s some opportunity, but it’s a lot about not waking up one day and realizing we’re in a worse place.

This interview was edited for length, style and clarity.