What does it mean to put local government first?

Local government officials are solid waste companies’ true customer, and many companies miss this fact (more on that in the blog post: Who’s your customer? The Generators vs. the Regulators). So what? What can you do to change your business to capitalize on this fact? Plenty.

Successful businesses are successful because they please their customers – they give them more value than what the customers pay in return. This is hard, which is why not all businesses are successful.

I think most solid waste businesses are successful in that most of them provide very good service to the people who generate waste. Paying $32.99 per month to have someone pick up your garbage and your recycling, come hell or high water (literally in Texas and Florida recently) is a clear win for consumers. Solid waste companies have accumulated the physical and human capital to collect and dispose of garbage extremely efficiently. They usually give really good value to generators of waste, because they’ve made providing service to them a top priority.

But what about local government officials? How do you give them value? What do they even care about?

These are the questions that your business must be set up to answer. The good news is, pleasing the Generators is a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite to pleasing the Regulators. So what you’re already doing to provide great service to the Generators helps with the Regulators too. But it’s not enough, because the Regulators increasingly want other things than good service from solid waste and recycling providers.

To please the Regulators, you need to have a system that is designed to make them happy. You have a huge investment in equipment and personnel to make the Generators happy. The good news is, the extra effort to make the Regulators happy is not nearly as capital-intensive. It’s all about what you know.

A system to keep your (current and potential) Regulators happy looks something like this:

  1. Define which jurisdictions (cities, counties, special districts) are mission-critical to your business. This most definitely includes those jurisdictions in which you’re currently operating. It also probably includes a handful of jurisdictions you’d like to operate in.
  2. Track what the elected officials in those jurisdictions care about when it comes to solid waste and recycling. Ideally, this includes someone on your team developing a personal relationship with each elected official. Because of the number of elected officials (and high rate of turnover) and the relative scarcity of people on your team that you would confidently empower to have such a relationship, this ideal is, in my experience, almost never achieved.
  3. Identify opportunities and threats posed by what elected officials are thinking and doing related to solid waste and recycling. Those that are most engaged on the issues you care about are the ones you need to prioritize. The fact is that most local elected officials are pulled in many different directions. You want to focus on those officials – or those jurisdictions – that happen to be interested in solid waste or recycling. One or two city councilors who are passionate about those issues can drag the others along with them if for no other reason than the others have different interests.
  4. Engage with key elected officials. Because you’re reading this, the person who does the engaging is probably you, or maybe a trusted colleague. Let the elected officials know you’re there, you care, and you’re not going away. Most importantly, let the elected officials know that YOU know their community and their issues.
  5. Turn the debate in your favor. That engagement will pay dividends. Because you know the context for a particular jurisdiction, and because you have engaged with the elected officials who will be looked to by others for leadership on this issue, you yourself will be in a position to provide impactful input when it matters.

What I’ve described takes a lot of effort and the commitment of your entire business. Cultivating and pleasing your true customers, the Regulators, must become the north star of your business. If it doesn’t, you’re leaving opportunities unfulfilled, and exposing your business to unnecessary threats.

Jeff Eager is the Founder and CEO of Waste Alert, which provides weekly email updates on local government activity to solid waste and recycling companies. He is a practicing attorney specializing in solid waste franchise issues for private waste companies, and is the former mayor of Bend, Oregon.

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