State retail association honoree ‘does his work as a friend’

Nebraska Retail Federation President Jim Otto drew praise from those he represents and those he lobbies alike as he was honored as one of the nation’s top state retail association executives at the annual Retail Advocates Summit in Washington this week. “He does his work … as a friend,” Tom Wright, owner of Wright’s Jewelers in Lincoln, Neb., said. “It’s really amazing what he has been able to do.”

“I’ve never been around another lobbyist who works as hard as he does,” said Nebraska state Senator Dan Watermeier. “He really does carry the load for the state of Nebraska.”

The comments came in a video tribute as Otto was given the National Retail Federation’s J. Thomas Weyant Award Tuesday night. The award, named for a former president of the Pennsylvania Retailers Association, was created by NRF in 1995 to recognize individuals who have committed their professional lives to state retail associations. “No one fights harder for the retail industry than Jim Otto,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in presenting the award.

Matthew Shay, left, presents Jim Otto with NRF’s J. Thomas Weyant Award.

Matthew Shay, left, presents Jim Otto with NRF’s J. Thomas Weyant Award.

“I want to say thank you and how much I love this job,” Otto said, attributing success in his career to working closely with his counterparts at other state associations across the country. “Thank you to every other state director that I get to work with — I learn so much from everybody and from NRF,” he said. “Each of the retail executives in the room is more deserving than I am.”

Otto has been president of the Nebraska association since 2002, lobbying on a wide variety of issues before the state legislature and working closely with the state’s congressional delegation. Before that, he was state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and coordinator of economic development for the City of Lincoln.

State Senator Al Davis was among those featured in the recognition video, citing Otto for his support of legislation aimed at requiring online retailers to collect sales tax the same as local stores. “He’s here every day shepherding bills through,” Davis said. “He reaches out and talks to every senator.”

Otto’s admirers include officials at other associations in his home state. “He’s got credibility across the industry and across the political spectrum,” Nebraska Restaurant Association Executive Director Jim Partington said.

State Retail Association Executive of 2017