The Nile File

Get to know Nile Elam, NAPA’s newest advocate In Washington.

Growing up in northern Virginia inside the Washington, D.C. beltway meant Nile Elam came by his interest in government honestly.

“Being around politics was just what you grew up with,” Elam said. “It’s just what you knew.”

Today, Elam is continuing his career in association advocacy as NAPA’s Vice President for Government Affairs, using his experience on Capitol Hill to bridge the gap between asphalt producers and their representatives in Congress.

While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Elam interned for Congresswoman Kay Granger, which gave him insight into the problem-solving nature of the work Congressional staffers and committee aides do daily.

“I loved the fact that folks would come in and talk about issues that impacted their businesses and their community,” he said.

Oftentimes the people who came in with the most to say were with trade associations, piquing Elam’s interest in lobbying and working to break down barriers for industries. After working on the Hill and serving on a presidential campaign, Elam joined a fellow TCU alumnus who started up a small firm serving small trade associations.

Likening their tiered services to the fast food or discount store version of lobbying firms, Elam worked for more than five years to build up a clientele of modest-sized trade associations that were looking to establish or re-establish their presence in Washington but lacked some of the resources of the larger organizations.

“The common thread was little to no understanding of how D.C. worked, either because they didn’t have the means or they didn’t think they needed to,” he said. “When you worked with these modest-sized trade associations you quickly understood that they either had no concept of what was happening in D.C. and they were probably missing out on not only the opportunities, but the challenges that they should be aware of, or they thought that because they knew their one congressman representing their largest member or a couple of them in one geographic area that they just assume that would ‘check the box’ for their industry. That doesn’t really help if the member of Congress either doesn’t truly know your industry or perhaps doesn’t sit on the committees with jurisdictions that are impactful for that specific trade association.

“It goes to the old adage that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Elam said he has worked with more than 30 different trade associations in one capacity or another – an eclectic bunch representing everyone from brick manufacturers, jail operators, aircraft mechanics, and childcare workers to the carpeting and floor industry via the World Floor Covering Association.

“I quickly realized there is a trade association for every hobby, every interest you can think of. It was a great learning tool,” he said, adding that after pursuing an MBA at TCU, he returned to Washington this time with his aims set on trade association lobbying. “I got sucked back into it by design – I wanted to start working for more established trade associations and continue that career growth.”

Elam worked at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and had stints at the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) prior to joining NAPA. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Rose, and daughter, Early.

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