HRAs Back in Time for the New Year

Tucked deep within the 824-page “21st Century Cures” legislation passed this week, was a major victory for Women Impacting Public Policy and entrepreneurs nationwide. The bill, on its way to the President for his signature will allow for the return of Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or “HRAs”, a small business-friendly way to offer health benefits.

In short, HRAs offer business owners an easy and tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. For example, a business owner could offer $200 a month to employees toward their individual premiums instead of providing health insurance through a company plan.

In practice, employees shop for plans in the individual market, finding what best fits their needs and budget. The business reimburses employees for some or that entire premium. This was a popular method for small businesses for which company-wide insurance plans were prohibitively costly.

The Affordable Care Act, however, and its interpretation by the IRS created stiff penalties (up to $500,000) for businesses using this method to offer a health benefit. This legislation reverses that interpretation, making clear that such plans are acceptable, penalty free.

Employers can now offer up to $4,950 per employee per year ($10,000 for employees with dependents) and employees must show they used funds on medical purposes, including premiums. Companies must have 50 or fewer employees and must offer the benefit to all employees to be eligible.

WIPP has long advocated a fix to this unintended consequence and took the lead in pressing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to provide temporary relief last year.

John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

Janice Hamilton: WIPP National Partner of the Month – December 2016

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Janice Hamilton

Interview with Janice Hamilton, CEO and founder of CarrotNewYorkContinue reading

WIPP leadership at NASDAQ

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WIPP joined with the NYC Department of Small Business Services to ring the NASDAQ opening bell on Friday, in honor of Small Business Saturday.

WIPP leadership at NASDAQ

Martha Acosta’s Story from ChallengeHER in New Mexico

_dsc0125Interview with Martha Acosta, Instructional Designer, Learning Consultant, and Instructor about her business, experience, and take aways from ChallengeHER in Albuquerque, NM.

1. Tell us a little about your business and its mission.

Martha: I have had a business as a leadership and organizational learning consultant since 2007 and I have been in the training field for about 20 years in total. I am an instructional designer and I also instruct. I’ve been working on my own for several years now and I just started building my company and hiring people.

My freelance work started out with a contract for Cisco Systems, which then led to contracts with Intel and Harvard Business Publishing, where I work as a contractor and do a lot of leadership training for banks, and large multinationals like General Motors and Colgate through them.

My organization’s mission is to help improve learning within organizations and my academic specialty is in leadership and organizational learning. For Harvard I teach a full range of subjects from the MBA curriculum.

Within federal government my specialty is in the safety leadership area.

Before I started working on my own, I was a training manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where I led a team that delivered safety training and responded to safety incident corrective actions. It is a passion of mine to help organizations deal with failure.

  1. How difficult was the move to self-employment and becoming an independent contractor?

Martha: It was quite tough, from the beginning I even regretted leaving (who leaves a government job, right?). But then I managed to score a contract in Silicon Valley which was a gift to my business. My day rate tripled since I started which would never have happened in regular employment. I learned to love the freedom and many income opportunities I can create for myself. But it also came with many lessons learned such as the need to manage my cash flow to cover for seasonal variation so I had to start thinking about my income differently.

  1. Have you always planned on doing business with the federal government?

Martha: I wanted to grow my business which was difficult to do due to my narrow specialty and freelancer status. People wanted to hire just me as an expert so it was difficult to start building a team around me to form a company.

I believe that the contract with the U.S. Forest Service which I just signed will give me the opportunity to work with more people on a larger scale.

  1. What shaped your decision to start pursuing Federal Contracts?

Martha: Since my work at Los Alamos I have been interested in high-reliability organizations, that do high-risk operations, such as the nuclear industry and firefighting. Through my work, I have learned that leadership and culture are very important for ensuring that high-reliability organizations are reliable. That’s why I would like to pursue more federal contracts because I think there is something I can offer in that area.

How has this shaped your business?

Martha: I really hope that government contracts will enable me to start hiring people. I’ve contracted freelancers before but that was on a short-term basis. So I see a lot of possible impacts of government contracts on my business.

  1. How do you think ChallengeHER and the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) program help women-business owners in the process?

Martha: ChallengeHER is a great opportunity to learn about all available resources and people which are out there for free ready to help women get federal contracts. I had no idea! I also believe that we have such a great advantage with the WOSB and EDWOSB program which can offer tremendous opportunities. We just need to learn how to use it.

The ChallengeHER conference also helped open my eyes about all the opportunities within the WOSB program and SBA as a whole that can help me to pull in other people and go after contracts that I can’t do by myself. So I am excited about all the opportunities.

  1. Could you share the key takeaways you took from the ChallengeHER event?

Martha: There were many big eye-openers during the event. One of the key lessons was from Sally Walton’s (Procurement Center Representative, U.S. Small Business Administration) lesson – get to know your competitors. I haven’t realized before how valuable partnerships can be for getting bigger contracts and getting financing needed for hiring more people. I also learned the importance of building relationships with federal buyers, competitors, other big businesses in my field to find out different ways to partner with other organizations on contracts. So I will be putting in place a business and marketing plan to get to know my competitors.

Another big eye-opener was when we found out through talking to SBA that I could be in other programs than just WOSB, such as 8(a) and Disadvantaged Small Business. If you have all of these different certifications that makes you more eligible for set asides and contractors can get multiple credits. So one of the first things that my business manager will do is to get us certified in all these different programs. That was really helpful.

I also learned a lot by talking to Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories and learnt more about what they might be interested in and I also got some key contacts, which is terrific.

They also mentioned the importance of monitoring the success of the contracts. My contract doesn’t have many milestones or targets so I should probably create those to make sure to have tangible results to demonstrate the success of the contract for future negotiations.

So overall it was an incredibly useful event for me.

  1. What contracts are you currently working on?

Martha: As mentioned above, I just got my first government contract this September with U.S. Forest Service. I got brought in because I am a subject matter expert in organizational learning and culture. They do reviews after fatality and safety incidents and they put a lot of effort to understanding why they happened. First they wanted me to help them with their learning review process. However, subsequently they found out that I could help them in the creation of their online learning efforts. So consequently my contract grew into a much larger one where I’m helping them roll out an online University possibly even into other stakeholders within USDA.

The reason why I got asked to do that initially is because in Los Alamos we had several incidents that shut the lab down when I was working there. My contact at the U.S. Forest Service knew that I was involved in these investigations and learning reviews before. So thanks to my contacts from Los Alamos I got in touch with the Director of Human Performance, Innovation and Organizational Learning within the U.S. Forest Service and they were looking for experts for their learning reviews.

  1. What would you recommend to other WOSBs doing business with federal government?

Martha: It’s also one thing I learned from the ChallengeHER – pretty much anything that you do, there is part of the government that is going to buy that. It’s really a matter of figuring out that niche.

Also use all the available resources and people that make their living out of offering free help, so use them!

WIPP National Partner of the Month – November 2016

laurie-artis-pictureLaurie S. Artis – President & CEO of Civility Management Solutions

1.Tell us a little about your company and its mission.

Civility Management Solutions (CMS) was established to not only employ individuals in professional services but to also mentor and train them in becoming better workforce partners.  In the Marine Corps, we are constantly mentoring to improve others and ourselves, and for those that receive it, it can increase their life personally and professionally.  We are working hard to develop both an east and west coast office, and to add the HUBZone certification to our certifications.  Also, as a Woman Veteran, of course, CMS is focused on supporting both civilian and military, nationally and abroad.  My life story has well prepared me to work with a diversity of individuals, doing a diversity of work for this country, and I am honored at the opportunity to once again serve the United States.

2. Have you always been an entrepreneur?

Yes, I have always been an entrepreneur as I sold candy as a child from my parents’ home; modeled professionally as a teenager in high school; (tried) medical billing and was scammed; marketed holistic products that I still use; and began an outdoor BootCamp exercise program.  So, yes, I have always been an entrepreneur.

What inspired you to take the leap?  

Being inspired by seeing another woman, much younger than myself own and operate a company with over 200 employees was truly some revelation … I can do this!  After working onsite in the government, and inside the corporate office, I really enjoyed the work.  I have thanked her several times since leaving her company, as I am grateful that I had an opportunity to gleam this world before taking the leap.

3. What is your biggest lesson learned from working with the Federal Government? 

You must be a people person!  If you’re not, then you are depending on others to do that for you; whereas, there is no better representation of your company than yourself and being 100% owned, this is important.  You must enjoy working with people and be willing to work with them to give both satisfaction and appreciation despite the obstacles that may come from them.  I love people, and that allows them to appreciate me and relationships are important.

4. Do you have any tips you would like to share with other women pursuing Federal Contracts? 

Put on your big ones (smile) … as this business is not for the faint of heart. It is truly a marathon, and you have to stay focused, stay involved, stay teachable, and get connected.

5. Have you encountered any challenges you had to overcome as a professional business woman and if so, what have you learned from them? 

Yes, I have encountered several challenges, but the worst was dropping my salary to minimum wage in order to stay employed by my company and not seek a job.  In reality, in order to become SBA certified as a WOSB or EDWOSB you should be working for your company full time “during normal business  hours.”  Upon submission of required documentation to Department of VA to become verified I learned then that they can prove this through your tax returns.  So, what I learned is that you need to operate in integrity at all levels in order to ensure success that can be maintained for years to come and stay out of trouble with the government.

6. Do you have a success story that you are particularly proud of? Tell us about it! 

I have responded to a Sources Sought and helped influence the set-aside, then responded to the solicitation and won the opportunity!

7. Tell us about your experience as a WIPP member.

Wow, fascinating, as it is great to be surrounded by women on a mission.  As a WIPP member I have learned so much from great teachers through WIPP webinars; I have been ‘sold out’ on the fight for women in business due to participating in congressional sessions alongside WIPP; and lastly, I truly enjoy being surrounded by women that are determined to make a difference for themselves and others.

What resources/value has WIPP provided that has been helpful to you and your company?

Webinar sessions, Congressional meetings, and testimonies.

Getting Women ONBOARD

By: Debbie Kobrin, WIPP Government Relations

WIPP has consistently advocated for increased female participation in venture funding. Last week, SBA confirmed WIPP’s conclusions with the release of Measuring the Representation of Women and Minorities in the SBIC Program – a groundbreaking study showing that women at small business investment companies (SBICs) play an important role in bridging the lending gap to women-owned firms.

The SBIC program is a multi-billion-dollar investment program that bridges the gap between entrepreneurs’ need for capital and traditional venture financing. SBICs match SBA guaranteed loans with their own funds and utilizes professional fund managers to identify and finance promising small businesses. With a current portfolio of $26 billion, the program has invested in some of our nation’s most iconic brands including Apple, Tesla, and FedEx.

Overall, the SBIC program has been successful, though it has failed to serve women and underrepresented individuals as well as it should. To better understand this challenge, SBA commissioned a report that found when women and underrepresented individuals are the investors, they are more likely to invest in firms like themselves.

The report also found greater gender diversity among SBIC investment teams than is present in the broader venture capital and private equity community. Nearly 12% of SBIC funds have women on their investment teams, compared to less than 8% in the private equity industries. While SBIC funds are reaching more women than private funds, it is still nowhere near enough.

As WIPP’s access to capital platform Breaking the Bank indicates, venture capital is still too elusive for women-owned firms. Venture capital is a classic “chicken and egg problem”, too few women serve on SBIC boards, which leads to the cyclic exclusion of women-owned firms from SBIC investments.

To increase the number of women and underrepresented individuals on SBIC and corporate boards SBA, LinkedIn, WIPP, and other partner organizations have created the Open Network for Board Diversity, or ONBOARD.

ONBOARD is an online platform that serves as an opportunity for women to be more involved in equity-based financing. By providing more opportunities for women to serve on corporate boards, we will increase opportunities for women-owned firms. To join ONBOARD, click here or by search “ONBOARD diversity” in the Linkedin search bar.

To learn more about ONBOARD please watch Give me 5: ONBOARD: Open Network for Board Diversity presented by SBA, and hosted by WIPP’s Chief Advocate, Ann Sullivan.

A Report Worth Reading

By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

Shortly after adding sole source authority to the WOSB program, WIPP’s Chief Advocate (and my boss, full disclosure) Ann Sullivan asked our policy team a simple question: what’s next?

Surely the much-needed improvements to the women’s procurement program we had spent the last fifteen years attaining were not the only steps needed to remove barriers women face in the federal market. The answer was straightforward, WIPP’s procurement portfolio would go onward, exploring more ways women entrepreneurs can bring innovation and value to the federal government.

The next question was not so simple. While anecdotes and intuition told us that the playing field was far from level, we lacked the data to point to the next set of systemic issues that limit access. “What are they and what can we do about them,” began a quest that reached a major milestone two weeks ago with the release of Do Not Enter, WIPP’s latest report about disparity in federal contracts.

The salient details are in the related one-pager with a full executive summary and findings in the formal report. I’ll refrain from re-digesting those documents here, but instead make a plea that you visit them. The key findings and recommendations will be the pillars of WIPP’s next push – ensuring that these mega-contracts are fair opportunities for women business owners.

Many people ask where an advocacy campaign truly begins; something that will ultimately lead to a new law or a change in regulations. At WIPP, it begins with our members. Tackling this issue would never have happened without women business owners communicating their struggles—far more than individual challenges, but instead ongoing concerns about disparities—to WIPP.

We listened. But compiling a few narratives from members will not move the needle in Washington. We needed data, analysis, and recommendations across regions and industries to garner the attention of policymakers. Enter this report. It is the launching point for a broad campaign to educate and change a contracting system that continues to leave women business owners at a disadvantage.

At WIPP’s Annual Leadership meeting earlier this month, we detailed the report to attendees and Congress. In follow up, a new WIPP member commented that she was thrilled WIPP would be taking on this issue. She described her feeling of helplessness as she lacked the voice to challenge her customer, but felt that she continued to have limited success because of the structure of her contracts. The barriers she faced could have come straight from the pages of this report.

While her story was compelling, new policies are not implemented because of individual experience. Simply put, Congress is little moved by lone stories of inequity. That is why, at WIPP, these kinds of efforts serve as a reminder that a team in Washington, backed by organizations and businesses across the country, stand shoulder to shoulder with you on these issues. Do Not Enter, and its ensuing efforts, should remind us all that no one is alone.

As the next chapter of WIPP’s advocacy for women business owners seeking access to the federal market begins, it does so not in the form of grand rhetoric or a press release, but spread out across dozens of pages of research and data confirming what we knew to be true: more work remains to be done to ensure women have a shot at the government’s largest contracts.

We hope you will join us in this fight.

The SBA’s New Mentor-Protégé Program: The Dilemma of Hiring Project Managers

By Jon Williams, Partner with PilieroMazza and a member of the Government Contracts Group. He may be reached at jwilliams@pilieromazza.com

On July 25, 2016, SBA released its long-awaited final rule creating the new mentor-protégé program for all small businesses. Many aspects of the new rule are very exciting and should be beneficial for the small business community at large. However, buried in the lengthy rulemaking are a few provisions that will be problematic for small businesses when the rules go into effect on August 24, 2016. One of the problematic provisions will adversely affect how many small businesses form joint ventures with their mentors.

A primary benefit of the mentor-protégé relationship is the ability of the mentor and protégé to form joint ventures. SBA’s rules require the joint venture to have a project manager that is responsible for the performance of the contract. The new rules state that the project manager must be an employee of the protégé by the time of contract performance. SBA helpfully clarified that the protégé does not need to employ the project manager at the time of proposal submission, as long as the protégé has a letter of commitment from the individual to confirm he or she will become an employee of the protégé and serve as project manager by the time of contract award.

SBA then added a further “clarification” in the final rule to prohibit the protégé from hiring the project manager from its mentor. This was not a clarification of existing rules, however. SBA did not previously propose this significant change and, therefore, the public was not given an opportunity to comment on it. As a result, this rule was not the product of proper notice and comment rulemaking and should not be implemented, at least not before the public has an opportunity to weigh in.

If SBA had sought public comment on this new requirement, the small business community (as well as large business mentors) surely would have voiced strong objections. When a protégé needs to hire a project manager, the mentor is an excellent resource. Indeed, assisting with personnel in this manner is often precisely the type of mentoring envisioned under the mentor-protégé relationship. But SBA’s new rule will force small businesses to forgo the mentor as a source of a new hire for the project manager position. This undercuts a key aspect of the mentoring relationship and makes the mentor-protégé joint venture harder to form than it should be.

SBA believes the new rule is necessary because it is concerned that the project manager could easily go back to the mentor at the end of the contract because project manager has no previous ties to the protégé and is not bound to stay with the protégé after the performance of the contract. If that happens, in SBA’s eyes, the business development of the protégé firm would be diminished.

What SBA overlooks here is that these concerns would be present any time the protégé goes outside its existing workforce to hire the project manager; the concerns are not unique to hiring from the mentor. Moreover, many contract workforces follow the contract, so if the protégé does not retain the contract it would expect to lose its project manager and perhaps other personnel. Again, this would be true whether the personnel came from the mentor or another previous employer. In the new rule, SBA recognized the importance of giving protégés the flexibility to hire a project manager from outside its workforce. There was no reason to make a distinction and prevent that hiring from the mentor.

Additionally, we disagree with SBA’s conclusion that the protégé’s business development would be diminished if the project manager leaves at the end of the contract. The new mentor-protégé program does not permit open-ended mentoring relationships. At most, the protégé can have a six-year mentoring term with one mentor. Therefore, the protégé has to plan for the end of the mentoring by maximizing the time while that relationship exists. To this end, the project manager can impart significant institutional knowledge and assistance, both in terms of performing the contract and more generally for the protégé’s operations, while the project manager is an employee of the protégé.

This will not all evaporate if the project manager leaves at the end of the contract. Like with the end of the mentor-protégé relationship itself, the protégé can continue to benefit after the end of the contract from the experience and expertise the project manager imparted while employed by the protégé and working on the contract. Even if just for a few years, having an experienced project manager on staff with the protégé is the type of assistance that can make a real difference for the protégé and should be encouraged, rather than prohibited, by the new rules.

Unless SBA changes this rule, or pulls it back for public comment before it goes into effect, small and large businesses must plan around the new requirement. That means for new and existing mentor-protégé joint ventures, once the rule goes into effect on August 24th, the protégé cannot propose to use a project manager that is hired from the mentor.

For a full accounting of the new All Small Business Mentor-Protégé program, including the Project Manager Dilemma, please watch the following webinar:

Give Me 5: Any Day Now! SBA’s New Mentor-Protégé Programs
Guest Speakers: Megan C. Connor, Associate, PilieroMazza PLLC and Katie Floor, Associate, PilieroMazza PLLC
Listen to the Podcast | View the Presentation

This blog was reposted from PM Legal Minute blog, which provides updates and analysis of issues that practice groups have encountered, as well as tips and practical advice for government contractors.

Is the Tax Code Sexist?

By Caroline Bruckner, Managing Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center

indexWomen-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of our economy. Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 59% – 1.5 times the rate of U.S. businesses overall, according to a 2013 Women-Owned Business Report prepared by American Express. What’s more, over the past 16 years, employment by companies owned by female entrepreneurs is up by 10% and their revenues grew by 63%. Both increases exceed those of all but the largest, publicly traded firms. Today, more than 8.6 million U.S. businesses are owned by women. They generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ nearly 7.8 million people.

Those are impressive figures, especially considering that women business owners face many challenges men do not, such as having a much harder time accessing capital than their male counterparts. Only 4% of all commercial loan dollars go to women, in fact. But what other hurdles must they overcome? What about the U.S. tax code? Is the tax code—first codified more than 100 years ago, before women even won the right to vote—written in a way that inherently discriminates against women entrepreneurs?

The Kogod Tax Policy Center, with WIPP’s help, intends to find out.

Kogod will perform groundbreaking research in the coming months into whether small business tax incentives discriminate against women business owners—a question that has received scant attention from policymakers and academia.

Given the current political and budget environment, we think that researching and answering this question is vital to informing Congress about the policy implications of existing small business tax incentives as policymakers look to move forward with tax reform.

The tax code is ripe with provisions designed to specifically target various taxpayer populations like small businesses, veterans, and low-income workers. However, little academic or policy study has been dedicated to the tax challenges women business owners face and whether small business tax incentives favor men.

But how could the tax code discriminate against women? It can’t see the difference between male and female any more than it can play the piano or skip rope. Well, let’s look at some details of the tax code’s inception:

  • The income tax code was written in 1913.
  • Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
  • Women weren’t able to fully access credit until 1974.

Women business owners weren’t even a footnote as our nation’s tax code was being written and developed. Simply because the tax code is supposedly gender neutral does not mean it impacts people equally.

We plan to analyze the federal budget implications of annual small business tax expenditures in relation to how many women-owned firms claim them.

We recently announced our project at WIPP’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Washington, D.C. As part of the study, Kogod will partner with WIPP to survey women business owners to determine how they view the tax code and its impact on their business, so watch your inbox and make sure to participate so we can use your experience and voice in our study!

Given the enormous role women entrepreneurs play in our economy, answering these questions will determine whether they are playing on a level field and could lead to positive policy changes that help the economy overall by boosting women’s entrepreneurial output even more.

The time has come to review the tax code and determine whether the specific tax provisions are serving women entrepreneurs so they can fully unleash their economic potential.

 

If you have questions about our research, want to help support the Kogod Tax Policy Center with a gift or would like to participate in the survey, contact Caroline Bruckner at cbruck@american.edu.

Interview with NDC’s Jane Campbell, President of WIPP

jane-campbell1.Can you shortly describe your professional background? Is there any achievement/lessons learned that you are most proud of or would like to share with us?

I started my career in neighborhood development with the Volunteers in Service to America program (VISTA), worked with women’s advocacy organizations for many years, returned to neighborhood economic development and then ran successfully for the Ohio House of Representatives. My path as an elected official included 12 years in the legislature, 5 on the Cuyahoga County Commission and a 4 year term as Mayor of Cleveland. After serving as Mayor, I started my own business doing economic development consulting including advising Goodyear in the financing of their new Headquarters in Akron, OH. I also served as a fellow at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. The real estate crash sent me back into the public sector as Chief of Staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Staff Director for the Senate Small Business Committee.  Now I lead the Washington office of the National Development Council (NDC), an extremely creative nonprofit dedicated to bringing capital into underserved communities to create jobs, build affordable housing and create communities. NDC provides small business lending especially to women and minorities in underserved areas.

In every position that I’ve had the opportunity to hold I worked to be sure that women were full participants, that low income and minority communities were well served and that public private partnerships between government, business, and local community leaders were key to the engagement.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that collaboration is vital to success and that women are incredibly hard workers.

2. When did you hear about WIPP for the first time and what resonated with you the most?

I learned about WIPP when I was Sen. Mary Landrieu’s chief of staff.  Sen. Landrieu chaired the Senate small business committee and we found WIPP to be one of the most effective coalitions on Capitol Hill. Later when I was the Staff Director of the Senate Small Business Committee under the leadership of Sen. Maria Cantwell I saw WIPP in action when several hundred women appeared to advocate for greater federal contracting opportunities.

3. What shaped your decision to become WIPP President?

The partnership that we are creating between the National Development Council(NDC) and WIPP is a new frontier of creative engagement.  For over 40 years NDC worked to bring capital into underserved communities by providing training in economic development finance, technical assistance to communities and economic development entities, the creation of Public private partnerships and lending to small businesses – especially those businesses owned by women and minorities. Our work with WIPP will strengthen both organizations as we pursue access to capital for women entrepreneurs, creating the strongest voice for women whose businesses are creating jobs and futures for key populations. 

I took the role as President of the WIPP coalition to strengthen this partnership and to provide the leadership needed for WIPP to move into the future while staying fully committed to my work as director of the NDC Washington office.  Knowing that Roz Alford is there as Managing Director to lead the day to day work of the office allowed me to say yes.

4. Do you have any particular vision for WIPP?

Our Coalition of businesses and associations can emerge from its already strong position to be clearly the voice of women entrepreneurs.  By building a strong national network of women in business and advocates for women in business the WIPP Coalition should be able to enhance opportunities by connecting policy makers and women business owners to craft meaningful policy that will enhance access to capital, improve contracting opportunities and create a fair tax code.

5. Do you have any message for WIPP members? 

The strength of the WIPP Coalition is the active engagement of our members – please join in our work!