A Year in Review

It is easy to feel out of touch with what is happening with the government—whether that is at the federal level or in the local communities in which we operate. But sticking our heads in the sand can’t be the answer.

We can more successfully argue our case when we get involved—and the earlier the better. If we don’t, we will continue to encounter headwinds that cut into the bottom line.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, it costs the average U.S. manufacturer nearly $20,000 per employee to deal with bureaucratic red tape. As if that number wasn’t enough, add in ISA’s research, which shows the average sign, graphics, and visual communications company spends $21,000 annually to get permits approved or to obtain a sign variance. There is another average $135,500 in lost sales due to restrictive sign codes.

Altogether, that is more than $175,000 each sign, graphics, and visual communications company loses per year dealing with regulations. How many employees could you hire or how many new pieces of equipment could you buy with that—and how could such decisions help grow your business?

As we look to a new year, I am hoping to see improvement at all three levels of government:

Federal Government: More Action Needed. While the U.S. Congress closed out 2017 with much discussion of tax reform, there are more actions needed. Every day, sign, graphics, and visual communications companies spend thousands of dollars to comply with mandates from Washington, D.C.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, federal regulations cost the U.S. economy over $1 trillion a year. When the Trump administration took office in 2017, it took early steps to reform this regulatory burden by requiring that two existing regulations be rescinded for every new one added and capping the costs. Congress joined in, nullifying more than a dozen last-minute regulations from the previous administration.

But there is more work to be done to reduce regulatory burdens and overall government-imposed costs for small businesses. ISA continues to work at the federal level to enact positive change for our industry by meeting with Members of Congress and participating in allied coalitions to ensure that Washington understands the impact these actions have on the day-to-day operations of small businesses throughout the country.

At the State Level: An Eye to the Courts. State and federal district courts have been hearing a number of lawsuits lately that could have far-reaching implications for the on-premise sign, graphics, and visual communications industry. These cases are fallout from the Reed decision of 2015 and are all related to off-premise signs or billboards.

Cases in Tennessee and Texas have struck down state DOT laws distinguishing between on-premise and off-premise signs because they are content-based, even though Justice Sam Alito said that such a distinction is legal in his Reed concurring opinion.

ISA has long argued in favor of keeping regulations between on-premise and off-premise signs separate, as has traditionally been the case. If on-premise signs were regulated the same way as billboards, there could be significant ramifications for the sign, graphics, and visual communications industry. The two kinds of signs serve very different purposes and intended audiences, and any differences are locational, not content-based.

The recent cases in Tennessee and Texas, as well as similar cases in California and Indiana, show that the regulatory distinction between on-premise signs and billboards is at minimum under reconsideration and may be on the way out.

Locally: Reed’s Continued Impact. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the town of Gilbert, Arizona’s sign ordinance, largely due to the distinctions between types of speech. The federal judges who took down Tennessee and Texas billboard laws cited Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

The Reed ruling has forced virtually every community in the U.S. to examine its sign codes. That has presented a tremendous opportunity to ISA and the sign, graphics, and visual communications industry. As the communities have explored whether their sign codes complied with Reed, ISA and the Sign Research Foundation developed materials and educational sessions designed to help planners and local officials understand more.

SRF, by the way, will be releasing a new model sign code in early 2018—designed to help communities comply with Reed.

By continuing to educate local officials on this important issue, ISA has established itself as a credible resource, and we’re finding that they’re coming to us more, asking for assistance with other issues. This is turning the tide in important ways for our industry. The year ahead looks to offer even more opportunities to work on sign codes at the local level.

I do have to include one more action item for 2018. But I’m hesitant and for good reason. Every time it seems we are approaching the deadline for OSHA’s crane operator certification, the deadline is delayed. Most recently, the November 10, 2017 deadline was bumped back a year to 2018.

If this continues on its expected course, sign, graphics, and visual communications companies would be wise to start paying attention now—and to begin putting plans in place to meet this mandate. Who knows if that will actually happen? ISA will continue to monitor this sweeping change at http://signs.org/crane.

As I look back at 2017, it is clear that we’ve seen important and potentially groundbreaking shifts. More work needs to be done as we share the important message of how signs contribute to growing economies and community success. Working together, though, we will continue to drive this message forward. Here’s to a safe—and successful—advocacy year ahead.

By David Hickey

Photo: Shutterstock.com