Retail Launches Its Own Job Growth Policy Campaign

National Retail Federation launches retail means jobsWith the 2012 election season looming, the National Retail Federation has launched "Retail Means Jobs," a year-long, $10 million advocacy campaign designed to push for retail-friendly policies in Washington that "drive job creation, support innovation and deliver consumer value," said Mathew Shay, CEO of the nation's largest retail trade organization, during a media briefing on Tuesday.

The campaign -- which will include lobbying, grassroots efforts, social media and traditional media outreach -- will broadcast the message that the retail industry "is a real jobs engine," Shay said.

The retail sector directly and indirectly supports nearly one in four -- or an estimated 41.6 million -- U.S. jobs, and provided 18% ($2.48 trillion) of GDP in 2009, Shay said, highlighting new research from by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"The NRF represents Main Street America and also America's largest brands," Shay said. Given retail's tentacles in so many aspects of business, "promoting an agenda for the retail industry is also good for the broader economy," he said. "There's a tremendous opportunity for us to tell this story the way it's never been told before ... We want to raise the visibility of the NRF and the industry more broadly and change the outcomes of the policy issues critical to the industry."

To that end, the association will be vigilant about promoting its agenda to policy makers and decision makers on Capitol Hill and in the White House, Shay said, calling the campaign an unprecedented move in the association's 100-year history.

It's about time, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.

The retail industry has historically been low profile when it comes to plugging its agenda to government policy makers -- which is baffling, particularly given the sheer size and influence of the sector on the American economy. "Retail and restaurants account for almost one in five jobs in the U.S.," Johnson says. "More people, by far, have gotten their first job in retail than in any other industry."

But "it's an industry that minds it's own business," he says, in part, because the retail sector does not have "a bunch of lobbyists in the White House or Congress looking for government contracts" like the auto industry or pharmaceutical companies, for example. Retail is like the Rodney Dangerfield of business: "It gets no respect."

Now Shay, who took the helm of the NRF last year, is working to change that.

Retail's Policy Agenda

Topping the NRF's agenda is a push to lower the corporate tax rate, which it says will create more retail jobs and lower prices for consumers.

"We are supportive of taking that rate to as low as possible," David French, senior vice president of government relations for the NRF, told DailyFinance during the media briefing. The NRF supports the proposal by U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to cut the corporate tax rate to 25%.

Today, retailers pay a corporate rate of about 34.5%, the highest of any industry, according to the NRF.

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"Some people might view that as fair, some unfair," Johnson says.

Retailers have a higher effective tax rate than other business sectors, such as manufacturing, for example, which operates factories and "is more capital intensive," he explained. "Retailers costs are very labor intensive, and they're buying inventory."

On the global front, the NRF is lobbying for the elimination of trade barriers to bolster international commerce, and visa policy reform to make it easier for foreign tourists to obtain visas so they can come to the U.S. and shop. On average, overseas visitors spend about $4,000 here on each trip, French said.

Passing the Main Street Fairness Act, a bill which would to compel online retailers to collect state sales taxes from customers, is another goal. The bill would "level the playing field between online and brick-and-mortar retailers," French said. Online retailers currently do not have to charge state sales tax on customers in most states where the business lacks a physical presence.

Removing what some consider e-commerce retailers unfair advantage is becoming a more pressing issue, particularly with Amazon.com on track to soon become the nation's fifth-largest retailer, Johnson says.

What's more, the NRF is pushing for the repeal or delay of Obama's health care employer mandate. The mandate, it argues, would force retailers to make job cuts.

As technology, such as mobile marketing, is redefining the retail industry and generating a new revenue stream, the NRF wants to make sure that efforts to protect shoppers' privacy will not also stifle business, calling for "the appropriate role of government in security and privacy policies," French said.

So far, the NRF has launched RetailMeansJobs.com, an interactive web site designed to both champion its cause and serve as a kind of action hub. The policy push "will be run like a campaign, with a surround-sound approach," Shay said. "We'll try to reach out everywhere -- policy makers, business leaders, Capitol Hill, the administration ... leaving no stone unturned."

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