STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
By Korey Hampton, Owner, French Broad Adventures, President, North Carolina Aerial Adventure Association
Forming a state-level trade organization can be beneficial in many ways.
In 2015, there was a fatal incident at a challenge course in North Carolina. In the aftermath of that tragedy, a local legislator held a press confer- ence where he declared his intention to bring law and order to an “un- regulated industry.” It wasn’t long before he proposed an onerous and ill-advised bill in an effort to regulate the aerial adventure operations in the state. As the owner and operator of a zip line canopy tour in the mountains of western North Carolina, I recognized that the bill would have had a tremen- dous impact on my business and all of the other businesses offering aerial adventure activities. There are three other outstanding com- mercial zip line tours within an hour’s drive of my operation, not to mention an abundance of camps and university programs. Prior to this time, I hadn’t spoken to any of the other tour owners. But in the moment, I didn’t hesitate to call them and ask if they’d heard the news. In retrospect, that was when things changed for all of us.
organization. Before that, we were competitors, now we are collaborators. Before that, we were strangers, now we are “strange bedfellows.” Following the advice of an operator among us with previous legislative experience (a former lawyer with some lobbyist friends), we hired a lobbyist to keep us informed of the bill’s progress and to connect us with those in state government that might be receptive to stakeholder input. As the process moved forward—from Department of Labor research about our industry and how (or if) they could effectively regulate it, to hearings in var- ious state legislative committees about the process and implications of regula- tion—we were able to insert ourselves into the conversation. This would have been impossible with- out the ability to represent ourselves as a collective voice for a much larger industry. The North Carolina Aerial Adventure Association (NCAAA), as it is now known, is a state-level organization of operators, ACCT Professional Vendor Members, and partner organizations, such as insurance companies, that are members of ACCT based in North Carolina. When asked recently about organiza- tions like NCAAA, ACCT policy director Scott Andrews said, “Local trade asso- ciations that have the ability to coordi- nate the efforts of operators in a region
are a significant help in developing new or improved regulation. In a jurisdiction where regulation is proposed or is be- ing changed, one of the first steps ACCT takes is to learn who will be affected by the regulation. This is time-consuming work, and local trade associations have already done this work. ACCT is always happy to work with local aerial adven- ture groups.”
In the ensuing years, one of the most important lessons we have learned is that we share a common purpose. Being competitors can sometimes over- shadow that. However, we have banded together multiple times to defeat the same ill-advised zip line bill and have continuously advocated for smarter regulation. But perhaps more importantly, we have repeatedly gathered to share our col- lective wisdom, to create a strong local aerial adventure community, and to further our common goal of advancing the industry through advocacy, commu- nication, education, and cooperation. So, why do you need a state level organization? Because when you speak together with multiple operators and organizations in your state, your voice is stronger. Because when you form a 501(c)(6) you are legally allowed to hire a lobbyist, and a lobbyist will get you a seat at the “important tables” in your
CONVENING A COLLECTIVE VOICE
The legislative process moved pretty quickly, and we were compelled to react. Within a few frenzied phone calls, we had recruited other operators in the state, formed an impromptu organiza- tion, and registered as a 501(c)(6) trade
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