Peter Jones didn't know quite what to expect. He'd invited his local congressman, Bob Goodlatte, to spend 45 minutes touring his Lynchburg factory, and wasn't sure how it would unfold.
The modest conference room at Wexco Inc. didn't have any special touches, other than ``Welcome Rep. Goodlatte'' written in black marker on the dry erase board and a bucket of water bottles chilling in ice in the corner.
In the end, no special touches were needed. The visit from a member of what is arguably one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world seemed, well, decidedly normal.
No limousines. No speeches. No discussion of campaign donations. Just Goodlatte and two aides, arriving at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 23, a few minutes behind schedule.
A round of quick handshakes, and Jones, a straightforward former U.S. Army officer turned corporate executive, launched into a brief overview of the company, which makes bimetallic barrels for extruders and injection molding machines.
Jones outlined the industry's political priorities: natural gas prices, health-care costs and rising steel prices. Litigation and regulatory costs also are important, he said.
Jones told Goodlatte that high natural gas prices push resin prices up for the plastics industry; that like many companies, Wexco is pinched by increases in health-care premiums; and that the company is having a hard time passing on higher steel prices to its customers.
Goodlatte, a conservative Republican whose voting record is ranked near perfect by business groups and near the bottom by labor and environmental groups, ran through what Congress is trying to do.
He touted litigation reform, but said the House's legislation ``gets shut down in the Senate.'' He said health care is ``tough,'' and encouraged Wexco to look at health-care savings accounts passed by Congress.
And he said he favors energy legislation to open up domestic natural gas production, but the approaching November elections will make it tough to get anything done: ``They call this the silly season in Washington.''
Jones arranged the tour as part of a new effort by the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. to get members of Congress into plastics factories. The company is also trying to build awareness among workers, and has posted sheets describing the voting records of Goodlatte and others.
Wexco executives emphasized they told employees they were not encouraging them to vote for Goodlatte - such overt political pitches to the rank-and-file are illegal. The congressman, however, did not seem quite so constrained.
As he toured the shop floor, he would seek out employees, introduce himself and ask where they lived. If they lived in his district, he'd hand them a business card. He even extended the tour into the front office, chatting with workers there.
Not that Goodlatte really needs to stump for votes: He won 97 percent of votes cast in his 2002 race, and ran unopposed in his southwest Virginia district in 2000. No Democrat opposes him this time, either.
The visit wasn't all glad-handing. Goodlatte did dispense some advice, telling the gathering of company executives and SPI officials to ``speak up, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.''
``When you see an issue and you want to push it, it's important to get back down to [SPI] member companies and they get to their employees,'' he said. ``If you can get a percentage of your employees to write letters or e-mails, that can make a huge difference on a bill.''
(Wexco, like a lot of manufacturers, has a lot fewer of those potential letter writers now. The company had 135 employees in 2000, but four years of a tough economy have cut that to 67, Jones said.)
Forty-five minutes after he arrived, Goodlatte was gone, off to a nursing home, another of four visits his aides said he had that day.
Jones, who heads SPI's public policy committee, seemed pleased. He said it was not difficult to arrange the visit, except for scheduling, which SPI helped with.
SPI officials said the visit was typical - it was more about building relationships than accomplishing anything specific.
``You set the hook so that when you yank it, there will be something that you'll catch,'' said SPI President Don Duncan.