Passing the torch to the new ICSC chairman
The ICSC RECon 2012 conference next week in Las Vegas will be bittersweet for me. I’ll certainly enjoy mixing again with many of the best and brightest in the retail world, but this year’s gathering also marks the end of my year-long tenure as chairman of ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers). It’s been an amazing ride.
Even though I’ve been in the real estate business for more than 35 years, serving as ICSC chairman has given me a new and invigorating perspective on our industry. Over the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity to work with major retailers, owners, and lenders; travel the world to meet a wide range of retail professionals; and spend time on the issues that matter most to them and the industry. I come away from this experience convinced that our industry is moving toward a better and brighter future.
I’ve also had the great fortune to work with an ICSC team that is thoroughly professional, incredibly responsive, and truly passionate about our industry. It’s been an honor to serve alongside these remarkable people. Together, we’ve achieved much, and those accomplishments are certainly worth highlighting here.
Bringing Fairness to the Retail Sales Tax Structure
During my time as chairman, ICSC built momentum toward dismantling the unfair sales-tax structure facing brick-and-mortar retailers. This issue is garnering increased public and bipartisan support, with two bills — the Marketplace Fairness Act and the Marketplace Equity Act — now moving through Congress.
Unlike the earlier-introduced Main Street Fairness Act, these bills offer a new approach to this old problem by giving states more flexibility to compel online retailers to collect sales taxes, same as their brick-and-mortar counterparts do.
As states wait for Congress to act, many of them have been looking for ways to address this growing problem on their own. Several states, such as Georgia, have adopted new online sales-tax collection laws, while others, like Pennsylvania, have worked to clarify existing rules concerning sales-tax collection obligations for online retailers.
Still others have negotiated collection agreements with Amazon. Regional and local organizations, such as the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, have come out in support of efforts to level the playing field for community businesses, and governors from around the country have been calling on Congress to provide a solution.
ICSC has become a visible standard-bearer for the online sales tax issue, which is critical to ensuring the ongoing survival of many local businesses and preserving the ability of cash-strapped state and local governments to continue providing vital services.
We have made strong progress in building support for the Marketplace Fairness Act and the Marketplace Equity Act, and I’m hopeful that Congress will pass one, if not both, of these bills this year. The implications of the Marketplace Fairness Act and Marketplace Equity Act are enormous, and I feel good about the progress we’ve made.
Hitting ICSC Strategic Goals
We’ve continued to make progress toward attaining ICSC’s three long-term goals established under the leadership of my predecessor, William Taubman, on the ICSC Steering Committee. Our focus is on 1) defining ICSC in international markets, 2) broadening the ICSC membership base, 3) improving ICSC’s RECon events.
Today, ICSC has members in more than 100 countries, and we’ve worked hard in the past year to make sure those members are served with programs and support that are relevant to the conditions they face in their respective markets.
Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, we’ve tailored our offerings to meet the special needs of members in emerging markets, for instance, where shopping center development is at a different stage in the evolutionary cycle of our industry. One notable example is our expanded presence in China, where we will be holding a world summit this September in Shanghai.
We’ve also made strong progress in broadening our membership base. Michael Kercheval and I have personally reached out to many of the world’s top retailers to encourage their increased participation in our organization, and we’ve also been in contact with other constituencies, such as the brokerage community, to demonstrate the benefits of ICSC membership. As a result, we’ve seen good growth in membership, especially in Latin America and other emerging regions.
Finally, with RECon seen as the must-attend event for our industry, we’ve found new ways to leverage this powerful brand to expand the business and learning opportunities we provide to our members around the world. We have launched several new RECon programs this year that we hope will make the overall experience more valuable; increase our visibility and attendance; and provide forums that encourage greater collaboration, innovation, and growth for our industry.
Speaking of visibility, we’ve worked diligently over the past year to build a stronger ICSC brand. Some of our efforts are coming to fruition at RECon this year, where we’re using a more prominent event logo that says “ICSC RECon,” rather than just “RECon,” to reinforce the important leadership role we play in bringing our industry together.
Bridging the Gap Among Retail Property Owners
We’ve also made important strides in bringing together owners of different types of retail properties to move forward as one organization. ICSC has been working collaboratively with many of the largest regional mall owners in the U.S. to ensure our RECon events have value for property managers, owners, and developers for all retail categories alike.
On the board of trustees, we’ve improved the format of our meetings to make them more productive and flow more efficiently. We’ve also had one-on-one conversations with ICSC trustees to get unfiltered feedback from each trustee on how to improve ICSC for the future. This has helped ensure all ideas and opinions are considered in our collective effort to improve the ICSC’s services to its members and the industry.
Charging Full Steam Ahead
Looking forward, I hope to see ICSC continuing to work hard to make sure we are the trade association of choice for all the players across our industry. That includes not only property owners and landlords, but retailers, tenant communities, brokers, appraisers, architects, lenders, and all other service providers.
ICSC should be a trade organization that is as broad and as inclusive as possible. Such diversity is one of our greatest strengths. With more than 50,000 members, ICSC is a powerful voice for positive change in, and for, our industry.
In closing, I want to congratulate Brad Hutensky on being named ICSC chairman for the 2012-2013 year. With Brad’s experience and his tremendous leadership abilities, I know I am leaving the ICSC in good hands. I wish you the best of luck, Brad, and I’m confident that under your stewardship, the solid work we’ve done in the past year will be carried on and expanded for the greater good of the shopping center industry worldwide.