We small business owners watched the political conventions over the last month and were listening to what the pols had to say about watching out for our interests. Numerous speakers took the podium to address an economic challenge not seen in this generation. We of the post-Baby Boom era are wondering whether our way of life will bounce back, rather than when. So many people have lost jobs, big companies have lost revenues they had taken years to build, and small business owners have lost both jobs and revenues as well as their livelihoods. We are, to say the least, keenly interested in whether we are being heard by Washington and our state capitals. We are certain that social security and probably Medicare will not be there for us when we reach retirement age. We truly do not care what happens to those programs–tell us what is going to be done to help us with issues we face!
Saying that small business is the backbone of the economy is not enough–both presidential candidates kowtowed to the convention audiences and said what they had to, but it wasn’t convincing. Part of the reason the comments seemed disingenuous is that “small business” is a catch-all phrase that does not distinguish between differing types of enterprises. As others have pointed out, a restaurant is a very different type of company than a small manufacturing concern. Dan Danner, the CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) says, “There is always a tendency for lawmakers to think that small businesses are just smaller versions of General Motors, and they’re not.” Main Street businesses have very different perspectives on policies that are developed by government. Policies covering health care, trade, taxation, and ecology often reflect the lobbying power of big business over small business. Chris Holman, chair of the National Small Business Association, says that politicians often “go and vote against small business.”
Data from the Small Business Administration shows that small business has been hit harder than big business by our recent recession. One of the statistics–share of nonfarm GDP from private companies–fell from 48+% in 2002 to <44% in 2010. With home building and related trades suffering from the aftermath of the mortgage crisis, there has been a very slow return to stability –let alone growth–in many small business sectors. Uncertainty over potential changes in the tax code and Obamacare has many small business owners anxious as to what to plan for and how to develop strategies focused on more than just a few months down the road.
Bloomberg Businessweek writer Peter S. Green profiled several small business owners in the September 17-23 issue who spoke to the issues above. Tom Campbell, who owns the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC, spoke out against the unfair advantage online retailers like Amazon have due to sales tax exemptions. He’d like to see the exemptions lifted to create a more competitive playing field. The 20 employees under his supervision have concerns about the future of small bookstores who have to compete in an environment where their customers pay an additional 7+% due to the imbalance in tax liability.
Tom Secor, who owns Durable Corp. in Norwalk, OH, feels that the tax system favors larger businesses. Preferential loopholes in the tax code seem to favor those who have the klout to petition government to listen to them, he says. “Big business is getting the better end of this because they have the money to spend.” Secor’s comments are similar to those voiced by Richard Eidlin, director of public policy at the American Sustainable Business Council. Eidlin decries subsidies offered to big business–whether broadband spectrum or ethanol price guarantees. He says, “If there’s going to be corporate welfare, you could throw some of that at the small corporations.”
In summary, small businesses want someone who understands their needs, can develop programs for sectors of the small business economy, and won’t bog them down in paperwork and red tape. While few actually believe that a president can personally be attuned to these issues, we hope against hope that they will make it a part of their platform and governance!