A “Strategic Thought Leader”
NEII Executive Director Amy Blankenbiller brings the skills, background and dedication that make a difference.
When the pandemic hit, a team led by National Elevator Industry, Inc. (NEII) Executive Director Amy Blankenbiller sprang into action. Blankenbiller said she recognized that NEII could be a vital source of information for its members as they navigated the overwhelming amount of information — executive orders and policies introduced almost daily — related to COVID-19. NEII Director of Communications Nicole Van Velzen updated the association’s website over a weekend, and Blankenbiller, along with former Director of Government Affairs Dylan Isenberg, meticulously pored over every executive order and related document. Said Blankenbiller: “We estimated at one point that we had read over 1,000 executive orders and other state and local directives.”
Every night for three months, the team updated the website and crafted daily emails to reflect the most current industry-specific information. Email updates eventually moved to weekly, and continued through March. Blankenbiller secured an appointment to an advisory committee for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which resulted in vertical transportation (VT) being deemed essential during the pandemic. NEII also partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to ensure its guidance documents related to the use of VT equipment were consistent with industry protocols.
Amidst all this, NEII team members were called upon by media to speak about technological innovations and what they mean for pandemic recovery. “With forward-thinking technologies like touchless elevator call buttons and UV-light sanitizing escalator handrails, our industry has the tools the public is looking for to feel safe moving throughout buildings as life gets back to normal,” was the message consistently conveyed by Blankenbiller and her team.
Greg Ergenbright, a member of the NEII Board of Directors and president of U.S. Operations for Schindler, said the pandemic offered new ways to serve the industry by providing information and guidance, and that Blankenbiller “took a leadership role in forging new relationships and communicating critical information” during this time.
A Long Way From Home
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, a mid-size college town approximately 40 min west of Kansas City, Blankenbiller has worked for NEII since 2010, transitioning from vice president of government affairs to executive director in October 2020. She came to NEII from a storied career that included working for U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, President George H.W. Bush and boutique Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Waterman & Associates.
Her political career in the capital led her to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, where she was president for nearly three years before launching her own consultancy, AjB Strategies LLC, in early 2010. Clients included trade associations, businesses and nonprofit groups for which Blankenbiller provided management, policy writing and event-planning services. Clients also included NEII. Within the first year of running AjB, former NEII Executive Director Ed Donohue brought in Blankenbiller as the organization’s government affairs consultant. She would eventually become vice president of government affairs and, then, executive director.
Leading an organization comprising the VT industry’s heaviest hitters — companies like Otis, Schindler and TKE — is a long way from the Opryland stage on which Blankenbiller envisioned herself as a girl growing up in Kansas. “I wanted to be a country-and-western singer,” Blankenbiller said. “Crazy but true; I loved the music and beautiful outfits, but I didn’t really have the voice.”
Future Becomes Clear
After a high school trip to Washington, D.C., it became clear that a future in law and policy was in store for Blankenbiller. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kansas, going on to post-graduate studies in a joint environmental planning and law program at the University of Virginia. She said:
Leading an organization comprising the VT industry’s heaviest hitters — companies like Otis, Schindler and TKE — is a long way from the Opryland stage on which Blankenbiller envisioned herself as a girl growing up in Kansas.
“I’ve always had an inquisitive nature and interest in understanding how things work. My undergraduate education taught me the skills to question, research, analyze and problem-solve. College also helped me develop a network of people who would support me personally and professionally for years to come. My graduate work was issue-specific, coupled with law, which helped me navigate the legislative and regulatory policy arenas.”
During her time with NEII, Blankenbiller said one of her most important achievements was building its government affairs program from the ground up. “We created structure, established consistency and developed clear objectives for the program,” she observed. “We were also able to identify industry priorities, assemble a strong team of staff members and call on lobbyists to implement the complex strategies necessary to advance industry goals.”
She said there are several NEII VT policy accomplishments of which she is proud, many that boil down to preventing bad policies or practices from impacting daily industry operations. Throughout her NEII career, she worked directly with jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada to evaluate safety codes and update them to align more closely with the most recent model codes and advocated for customer choice, licensing standards and consistent interpretation and application of codes.
Throughout her tenure at NEII, [Blankenbiller] has worked to build broad coalitions and develop strong relationships with lawmakers, industry stakeholders and regulators to educate them on building transportation issues and secure specific actions.— Greg Ergenbright, member of the NEII BoD and president of Schindler’s U.S. operations
About reorganizing NEII, Blankenbiller said:
“Although I had worked for NEII since 2010, I wanted to undertake a comprehensive review of our structure and delegation of responsibilities, with a new perspective to see where any adjustments were needed. As a result, we moved safety and code-adoption efforts under government affairs and added a staff person dedicated to those areas. This change allows NEII to have a greater and more strategic influence throughout the code lifecycle — development, adoption and enforcement — as well as grow our advocacy efforts related to safety at the federal, state and local levels.”
Blankenbiller has also led efforts to improve the value proposition for NEII members through enhanced services, improved committee management, maximized staff contributions and development of “meaningful compliance-assistance tools.”
“Throughout her tenure at NEII, [Blankenbiller] has worked to build broad coalitions and develop strong relationships with lawmakers, industry stakeholders and regulators to educate them on building transportation issues and secure specific actions. Now as the leader of the organization, she inspires the staff to continually improve the collaboration between NEII team members and committees, improve policies that affect NEII members’ business operations and increase the visibility and influence of the trade association.”
Despite her youthful appearance, Blankenbiller said that, in 10 years, she will be 65 and either retired or looking toward retirement. She and her husband, Duane, who recently retired after a 20-year career as a federal agent and K-9 handler, plan to relocate to their farm in central Kansas to “truly enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle.” They also plan to spend time with their 31-year-old son, Sean, who works in manufacturing in Georgia.