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Ill-Conceived Order Will Hurt Businesses And Public Service

Commentary By STEPHEN E. HEBERT

February 24, 2008

The outdoor advertising industry has been an important and valuable Connecticut corporate citizen for more than 100 years. Throughout its long and varied history, it has stood on the side of small, family-owned businesses; with nonprofit organizations, public service campaigns and the state of Connecticut relying on the industry's donation of ad space; and today, the outdoor industry stands with law enforcement in partnerships to protect our citizens.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's executive order to ban outdoor advertising on state property has numerous and profound unintended economic consequences for businesses that depend on their ability to advertise in this medium.

These 217 billboards generate nearly $1.3 million annually in direct revenue to the state through lease agreements and permit fees, which is significantly more than the $80,000 in annual revenue reported by the governor in announcing her ban. The industry estimates that advertisers contribute many times that amount to our state's economy. At a time when Connecticut and the nation are flirting with a potential recession, government should not be presenting more obstacles for businesses.

These billboards represent a cost-effective way for local businesses (more than 80 percent of the advertisers are Connecticut firms) to reach their customers. These businesses are the economic growth engines for the state, employing citizens who invest in our economy and pay state and local taxes.

The outdoor industry employs many subcontractors electricity suppliers, sales people on commission, tree trimmers and graphic artists. If the governor's executive order is implemented, the industry estimates that these subcontractors will lose $1.3 million annually worth of business from operators. Finally, the outdoor advertisers themselves contribute to the state's economy through business and property taxes.

The executive order seeks to shut down a beneficial partnership established last year between the outdoor advertising industry and public safety officials. When a child is abducted, outdoor advertisers donate ad space to law enforcement to post within minutes an Amber Alert on digital billboards throughout the state. These alerts will provide critical and timely information to the public, all to protect children during abductions.

Outdoor advertising is so effective that the governor has used it extensively herself in promoting the "OneThingCT.com" program. Currently, the governor appears on 21 billboards throughout the state, encouraging people to conserve energy. Connecticut's outdoor advertising industry is a proud partner in this program with the governor. However, this sort of advertising, along with other important public service announcements, would be severely curtailed because the executive order would limit the number of billboards available for this purpose.

The executive order needs to be lifted for the sake of the advertisers, employees, vendors and the state's economy. The outdoor industry is ready to discuss how government, advertisers and other stakeholders can work together to reach common ground on which we all can stand.

Stephen E. Hebert is president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Connecticut and vice president/general manager of Lamar Outdoor Advertising in Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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