NRF's VP of government relations on how retail and public policy intersect

By Lottie Watts
Published Feb 11, 2021

National Retail Federation Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Jason Straczewski breaks down the key policy issues for retail under the new presidential administration, reflects on the challenges from COVID-19 and more on this episode of “20 Questions.”

Here are a few of the questions submitted by students nationwide – along with Straczewski’s answers.

What’s something people get wrong about the retail industry?

Retail is everywhere – in every community across the country. When you go to an elected official, they’re all coming from a base level of knowledge about what retail means to their community and the jobs that retail provides – 52 million in the United States.

A lot of people have this instant vision in their head of somebody folding shirts. They don’t think about everything that goes into the retail industry, or that retailers are looking at technology that helps their business grow, streamline processes and create a better customer experience.

What are the policy issues throughout the pandemic that you have worked on?

As the pandemic began, a lot was unknown about COVID-19 so policies changed very quickly. My focus for the first couple of months of the pandemic was trying to make sense of all this. We had to make sure retail’s story was being told to local officials and all the way up to the federal government.

We were involved in things as nitty-gritty as trying to keep rest stops on the sides of interstate highways open. If those rest stops weren’t open and restaurants were closed down, truck drivers and other logistics professionals couldn’t get some rest or get a meal while they were trying to deliver much-needed supplies to keep the retail economy open, to keep medical professionals supplied and to keep our grocery stores stocked.

What are the policy priorities with the new presidential administration in office (and new majorities in power in Congress)?

Expanding vaccinations, fiscal stimulus, economic relief for those communities and people hit the hardest, and policies to stabilize the economy and put us back on a path to continue our innovation. These are all going to be top priorities not only of the administration but for our industry.

Longer term, looking at the rest of this year and into next year, tax policy is going to be at the top of the list . A lot of companies – publicly held and privately held companies in the U.S. economy – are structured and their business models are planned and based around a stable tax code. So anytime the government is looking to make changes to the tax code, this can have tons of downstream effects on how businesses are organized and the strategic investments they make.

What are the biggest retail technology innovations that you have advocated for or pushed against?

Consumer data privacy is going to be a key issue for us moving forward. Retail runs on data. Data is what helps retail sales move. Retailers want to protect that consumer data. They want to make sure they’re using it in a way that’s meaningful to the customer to keep them coming back to keep them engaged.

The customer is going to continue to come back to stores, shop online and want certain conveniences from time to time, like delivery or curbside pickup. They’re going to want new retail experiences, and one key thing that makes all those different experiences and processes work behind the scenes is data.

Why is important for people in retail to know about – or become involved with – policy and government relations?

I like to say that if you’re not at the table, and you’re not participating in these important conversations among policymakers, other businesses or interest groups will be, and you can for sure bet that your voice will not be part of the solution.

In addition to our on-demand conversations with retail professionals, NRF Foundation All Access features recruiter chats, a virtual career fair and online Executive Mentor Experience sessions planned for March. Check out the full schedule and sign up for free today.

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