Entrepreneurs: 'One Percenters'?
Entrepreneurs have an image problem. At least that's the view of a group gathering today to walk down Manhattan's West Side in defense of their American dream.
The "Entrepreneur Walk" is seeking to promote successful entrepreneurs as the job-creating backbone of America and to combat the notion that entrepreneurs are part of an elitist, disconnected "One Percent," says Gary Whitehill, the founder of Entrepreneur Week. Entrepreneur Week, happening this week in New York City, is a networking event series for entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders.
The terms "One Percent" and the "99 Percent" were popularized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which got its start in September in Lower Manhattan. The movement takes aim at the banks and multinational corporations (the "One Percenters") that it sees as forces behind the origins of the recession. Establishing itself in opposition, it adopted "We are the 99 Percent" as its populist slogan.
Somehow, according to Whitehill, all successful, wealthy Americans have been categorized as "One Percenters" -- and he says that isn't fair. The idea that "if you make $250,000 a year, you are a One Percenter," he says, irks him. "It is not bad to make money if you are creating jobs," says Whitehill.
By putting a face on entrepreneurs at the Entrepreneur Walk, Whitehill wants to distinguish those who run a business from those who run Wall Street. "We are the ones who are making the difference," he says. "There is a very, very big difference between entrepreneurs and Wall Street."
Serial entrepreneur and business-turnaround specialist Amilya Antonetti says she plans to be front and center for the Entrepreneur Walk. "We are not the One Percent, we are not the 99 Percent, we are the job creators," says Antonetti.
Many small-business owners report their business income on their personal tax returns, which can make them seem more wealthy than they actually are, says Antonetti. While a business may take in $1 million in sales, after expenses and taxes, there often is just a fraction left for the owner. "I travel the country talking to entrepreneurs and CEOs," she says, and she is hearing that "there is a sense of pushback in their own community" as entrepreneurs are perceived as part of the One Percent.
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"The general public is seeing [big business] and business owners in one big bucket," she says.
This matter of categorizing and characterizing small-business owners and entrepreneurs is also playing out in a battle between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is set to vote on the Small Business Tax Cut Act, a bill that, if passed, would cut taxes for businesses with fewer than 500 employees by 20 percent for one year. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who introduced the bill, has been making rounds on the TV circuit promoting the bill. He is joining Steve Forbes, the chairman of Forbes Media, on a conference call today to advocate for it.
But should the bill pass the House, it would likely be struck down in the Democrat-dominated Senate. And should the bill ever pass the Senate, President Obama would likely veto it. Nearly half of the bill’s benefits would go to those small-business owners making more than $1 million per year, but the lion’s share would go toward more profitable companies, a recent statement from the Administration says, characterizing the measure as a misguided way of promoting job creation.
While Washington debates what small businesses and entrepreneurs need and don’t need, the Entrepreneur Walk has one clear vote of confidence: Whitehill’s cabbie. When this reporter called Whitehill, he was running all over town getting preparations ready for the walk. He interrupted the interview when his cabbie waived a $30 charge, as a showing of support for Whitehill's effort to polish the image of entrepreneurship.
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Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.