If President Barack Obama were delivering his annual State of the Union address to a room of small-business owners, instead of the constitutionally mandated Congress, it would be a tough crowd. A lot of entrepreneurs are fed up with the gridlock in Washington and their resulting inability to plan for the future of their businesses.
As his second term gets underway, President Obama is expected to lay out his agenda for the coming four years to improve the economy and create jobs for the middle class. In a speech about improving the economy, small-business owners want recognition for their role as the nation’s engine of job growth. Pamela Springer, the CEO of Manta, an online small-business community, says that small businesses were a primary theme for both the Democrats and Republicans in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. “What I found unbelievably surprising is after November’s elections, I have heard zero about small businesses,” says Springer.
As small-business owners listen to Obama’s address and the Republican rebuttal, to be delivered by the young, up-and-coming Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio, they will be paying close attention to if -- and how – their issues are addressed. Here is a rundown of what the small-business community wants to hear talked about.
1. Healthcare reform explained. Dubbed Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 to overhaul the nation’s health-care system and many of the provisions that affect small-business owners will begin to go into effect this year, like the health-insurance exchanges. Meanwhile, fewer than two in 10 small-business owners have a clear understanding of how the reform is going to influence their companies, according to a report released last week from the National Small Business Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan organization that advocates for entrepreneurs.
In the State of the Union address, small-business owners want to hear that they are going to get instruction from the government as they work to understand and implement the new law. Entrepreneurs want “good information, not just more information,” says Molly Brogan, the vice president of public affairs for the NSBA. “When you are talking about guidance it is not so much making sure that every little thing is explained but that it is explained in an efficient and common-sense manner. A lot of the regulations coming out simply aren’t.”
2. Immigration reform that helps entrepreneurs. Immigration is a multifaceted issue for entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Many business owners depend on immigrant labor to run, for example, their lawn-care business or restaurant. Also, many foreign-born entrepreneurs that want to be able to launch and grow their business in the U.S. often can’t because they are unable to get a visa. In a break from the stalemate that has characterized Washington for the past two years, momentum is growing on both sides of the aisle for a sweeping overhaul of immigration. While Obama is highly likely to address immigration in some way, entrepreneurs want to hear him specifically address the need for a “Startup Visa,” which would allow a foreign-born entrepreneur an option to stay in the U.S. to launch a business, says Brogan.
In his legislative outline for immigration reform, which was released two weeks ago, President Obama talked about the need to crack down on employers who employ undocumented immigrants by requiring businesses to use an electronic-verification system to determine a potential new-hire’s immigration status. That puts “a lot of burden and onus” on business owners, says Brogan, and many entrepreneurs are eager to hear details of a small-business exemption and what a penalty might consist of.
3. Money in the pockets of customers. Entrepreneurs can’t keep their businesses alive without customers who have money to buy their products and services. They will be listening for the President’s policies to spur the economic recovery and support consumers, says John Arensmeyer, the CEO of the Small Business Majority, a national small-business advocacy group.
4. Investing in the future. Entrepreneurs are by their nature forward looking and innovation-hungry and they want to hear the President assure them that he intends to invest in infrastructure, clean energy and research so that the U.S. remains globally competitive. Many entrepreneurs don’t see a continued dependence on a fossil fuel-based economy as sustainable, says Arensmeyer. “In economic terms, they don’t see that as the future.”
5. The ballooning deficit and raising federal revenue. Small-business owners are acutely aware of the debt that the U.S. government is racking up and it makes them nervous. Four in ten small-business owners surveyed say that reducing the national deficit should be Congress's first priority, according to the NSBA’s annual report released last week. “Obama has already made his intention clear that he wants to raise revenues,” says Jody Padar, the CEO and principal of the New Vision CPA Group, an accounting firm in the Chicago area, and a partner with the Xero, a small-business accounting software platform. “So how are we going to deal with that? Who is going to be affected by that?” When confronted with uncertainty, entrepreneurs tend to react by freezing in their tracks, holding back both spending and hiring.
Also adding to entrepreneur trepidation is the impending sequester, a self-imposed package of automatic spending cuts that Congress established for itself if it can not come up with a compromise deficit reduction plan by March 1. The initial deadline for the sequester was Jan.1, but in a last-ditch effort at compromise, the deadline for sequestration was pushed back two months.
What do you hope to hear from the President in his State of the Union address? Leave a comment below and let us know.