Entrepreneurs don't need a graphing calculator to know that business conditions have fallen from the Himalayan heights of the end of the past decade to somewhere close to sea level. But now Democrats on the House Small Business Committee have produced a Small Business Index (SBI) that tracks those peaks and valleys. Published for the first time last fall, the SBI charts an upswing from 1998 (the first year for which data was collected) until 2000, and then a devastating descent to the second quarter of 2003 (the most recent quarter for which data was collected).
The SBI groups 19 economic indicators into four categories: costs factors, credit conditions, industry metrics and trade competitiveness. After reaching a five-year high of 107.73 in 2000, the SBI slid to a five-year low of 72.16 in the second quarter of 2003.
"The House Small Business Committee Democrats decided to release the SBI to better track the small-business environment and to provide policymakers and market participants with a way to evaluate economic proposals," says Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the committee.
High-tech companies that depend on the H-1B visa program to fill engineering and technical jobs, with highly trained professionals born abroad but often educated in the United States, face a precipitous drop in the number of foreign workers they can employ. Congress twice raised the ceiling on H-1B visas, to a high of 195,000 in 2000. But the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act, which bumped up the ceiling the second time, specified the ceiling would plummet to 65,000 for fiscal 2004.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.