‘They Hear Us.’ WDMA Unifies Manufacturers in Washington

April 10th, 2024 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

The Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) held its Spring Meeting and Legislative Conference this week in Washington, D.C., where manufacturers looked to influence lawmakers on key issues impacting the industry. Hosted across the street from the National Association of Home Builders’ National Housing Center, the event took aim at bipartisan bills that officials said could impact housing production and demand for door and window products. Other key issues included tax relief, immigration and a bill that could incentivize research and development (R&D).

With manufacturers set to meet with members of Congress, association briefings included divisive topics, such as border control and immigration, casting them as key elements in combating a labor shortage. While political opinions may differ, the association rallied its members around the need for fewer government regulations, more affordable housing and stronger border protection, while calling for increased immigration.

“It’s nice, actually,” said Michael Speicher, business development, H.B. Fuller, regarding the association’s ability to craft activism under a neutral political stance. “These days, we don’t have that anymore,” Speicher said, about broader political discussions.

In the event’s opening general session, guest speaker Alex Thompson, national political correspondent for Axios, set the tone by poking fun at divisions and rivalries among political opponents.

“I’m not here to paint a rosy picture,” Thompson said. “This election year is going to be awful.”

Immigration

Regarding immigration reform, nothing is expected to happen in the near term, Thompson said. But regardless of who wins the upcoming election, reform is inevitable, he suggested. “Delicate negotiations” are expected to focus on letting more people into the country, Thompson said.

Alex Thompson, Axios national political correspondent, spoke in the event’s opening session.

“It used to be you had a lot of migrants coming across the border, but they were largely from Latin America and Central America,” he said. “We’re now seeing immigration from all parts of Asia, all parts of Africa and places in South America—in numbers we have not seen before.”

With door and window manufacturers in the middle of an ongoing labor shortage, WDMA urged its members to recognize immigration as an opportunity. The association encouraged comprehensive immigration reform, calling for bipartisan support. According to officials, 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost amid the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting the industry back by as much as a decade.

Reform is “urgently needed to address short- and long-term labor shortages affecting U.S. manufacturers,” they said.

At the same time, the association called for increased border control and security, while promoting the creation of a federal electronic employment verification system to help ensure undocumented workers do not displace American workers. Officials also encouraged policy reforms that prioritize increasing employment-based immigration, including expanded worker visa categories, a simplified worker visa application process for employers and transitional pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Housing

Thompson said Congress isn’t expected to act on housing related issues in 2024, but politics are changing rapidly in those areas as cities grapple with shortages and homelessness.

Interest rates remain a key obstacle, but cuts aren’t expected to arrive “any time soon,” he said. At the same time, “It is possible, that they nailed the ‘soft landing’,” he said, regarding the economic struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. “If so, you could see cuts next year.”

Meanwhile, WDMA urged bipartisan support for several housing-related bills.

U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) addressed WDMA members, discussing current issues and legislative movements impacting the industry.

As a bipartisan bill, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (H.R.3238/S.1557) would stimulate investments into affordable housing by strengthening a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). LIHTC is a federal tax credit that was created with the Tax Reform Act of 1986, encouraging private sector investment into construction and the rehabilitation of low-income rental housing. The bill aims to stimulate production of two million new homes over the course of a decade, WDMA officials said. With 220 House and 34 Senate cosponsors, the association urged its members to discuss H.R.3238/S.1557 with members of Congress, asking them to cosponsor and pass the act.

Research and Development

Two additional bills manufacturers hope to see through the approval process include the American Innovation and R&D Competitiveness Act (H.R.2673) and the American Innovation and Jobs Act (S.866). Combined, the bipartisan bills would permanently allow manufacturers to immediately deduct the full value of their R&D investments each year, rather than depreciating them over time. Those tax breaks would serve as a “powerful tool to encourage innovation, enhance competitiveness, and drive economic growth in the manufacturing sector,” WDMA officials suggested.

While the bills are nearly identical, the Senate version includes a section that would retroactively pay businesses back for the 2022 tax year, when they were unable to take full advantage of Section 174. The Senate bill also expands refundable R&D tax credits for startups and small businesses.

Other legislative movements making the list included the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act (H.R.7024), a $78 billion bipartisan tax package. H.R. 7024 would retroactively extend several tax breaks for businesses, while expanding the LIHTC through 2025. Financed by ending the Employee Retention Tax Credit, the bill would accelerate the deadline for filing backdated claims to January 31, 2024, further enhancing the Child Tax Credit for families.

H.R.7024 was passed in the house by a vote of 357-70 and is now awaiting Senate action.

With a full day of meetings scheduled with legislators, manufacturers said they expected to be heard on those and other key issues.

“We have seven office visits between the house and the senate,” said Steve Strawn, program manager, codes and regulatory compliance, for Jeld-Wen.

To maximize their impacts, manufacturers targeted legislators serving states in which they have the largest number of employees and tax dollars.

“For example, in Pennsylvania one representative covers about 1,400 employees across three different facilities,” Strawn said. “So naturally we want to see him.”

“Whether they’re democrat or republican, if you have a significant constituency in their state, they will support what you’re asking for,” said Dan Parish, engineering manager for Pella Corp.

With so many groups looking to influence legislators, “They have such a tough, tough business,” Parish said. “Everyone and their brother is here trying to bend their ears … we’re one of many groups.”

That’s not to say it’s a waste of time.

“They hear us, and they typically get behind what we’re trying to do,” he said.

With members coalesced around the same list of bills, officials hoped that WDMA’s efforts set the stage for political influence.

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