Key meetings in North Carolina and Hawaii are adding momentum to the United Natural Products Alliance’s state-by-state approach to cultivate the next generation of legislative advocates who can take over in Washington.
With historic levels of retirement in the House and the Senate, and the impending loss of long-time industry champions Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), UNPA has identified key states that have the right combination of industry activity and senators who sit on the right committees.
“No one else is approaching the leadership change with this kind of strategy,” Loren Israelsen, UNPA’s president, told attendees at the association’s annual meeting at the spectacular Biltmore Estate last week, before encouraging the membership to, “go into the states and prove you are a significant force.”
UNPA’s new structure is based on a number of state chapters, each with its own chairperson (or brace thereof). Several criteria were used to decide which states to start with. Money talks, so the bigger the percentage of a state’s overall economy is made of up companies in the natural products and dietary supplements business, the higher that state moved in the initial planning phase of the new organizational structure.
This meant that none of the top five states in terms of state domestic product (California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas) was considered for the first phase, even though there are sizable dietary supplement and natural products sectors in those states. Chapters have been organized in Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin, with Washington State being added to the list very recently.
NC – where wellness comes from
North Carolina, with its natural products industry already valued at $1 billion from about 40 companies, hosted UNPA’s annual meeting and its own state chapter meeting at the NC Arboretum, which was attended by about 100 supporters, economic developers, manufacturers and growers
Greg Cumberford, president of Bent Creek Institute and chair for the UNPA NC state chapter, said that the state was blessed with vast natural biodiversity, and NC is known for being holistic, adaptive, reverent, sustainable, and natural.
“We’re forcing the world to see that this is one of the places where wellness comes from.”
Momentum is also building behind the Hawaiian State Chapter, said Jen Johansen, VP of Quality & Regulatory Affairs for Cyanotech, following a March 13, 2014 meeting with Senior Staff of Hawaii’s entire US Delegation at the government offices in Honolulu.
“We highlighted the connection between Hawaii’s vibrant organic agriculture industry, and the abundant natural botanicals that supply the value added Dietary Supplement (DS) market. We further discussed how these inter-connected businesses provide a significant and economically viable alternative to the traditional tourism industry in the islands,” said Johansen.
“With the brand awareness and $2 per capita consumption of BioAstin and Spirulina Pacifica in Hawaii, Cyanotech was presented as the ideal case study,” she added. “As a Hawaii based dietary supplement manufacturer and one of the Big Island’s few publically held companies, Cyanotech continued to grow during the economic downturn, with over a 46% increase in revenue in FY 2012 and plans to be at $50 million in 5 years.
“Our intention with these State initiatives is to not only introduce the industry and initiate relationships, but also to identify those members of Congress who may be the next generation of political champions for our industry. They need to know us, and the legislative history defined by DSHEA in order to be these champions.”
End of an era
DSHEA, which turns 20 this year, has never been the subject of negative changes. “All laws get changed every few years, so I cannot overstate how unusual that is,” said Israelsen.
And Senators Hatch and Harkin deserve the lion’s share of credit for protecting the act over the decades. “That 20 year partnership between Harkin and Hatch we cannot overstate how unusual that partnership has been, with people from opposite sides of the political spectrum,” he added.
In addition to facing significant turnover in members of congress, the turnover in staffers is compounding the situation, noted Trish Knight, one of UNPA’s senior political advisors.
“The turnover in staffers, with their average tenure in DC at about 2.5 years, makes it difficult to maintain a knowledge base on Capitol Hill,” said Knight. “And this makes the economic impact on a state level even more important.”