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Election 2010: Small Business Decries the Economy


The Economy. Jobs. Healthcare. That’s the trifecta of hot-button issues most small businesses believe are hanging in the balance in the 2010 midterm elections.
The polls bear them out. In a recent survey that looked at their perspective on the upcoming elections, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of small businesses reported that the current state of the economy has negatively impacted their business over the last six months.

Washington took its lumps in the survey as well. Only 7 percent of those surveyed by software supplier Sage North America said the government is doing enough to help small business. Healthcare reform didn’t fare well, either. Among those businesses familiar with the content of the Health Care Bill passed in March (54 percent), nearly two-thirds (65 percent) think it will negatively affect business.

It’s going to be a tough slog for candidates of all stripes this year. Small business is not going to go silently into Election Night. Of those surveyed by Sage, 93 percent said they planned to vote in this year’s elections. And they’re more concerned about the candidates’ voting records and understanding of small business issues than they are about their party affiliation.

While polls are good at taking the public’s pulse on a macro level, it’s the view from the grass-roots level that frames the discussion in personal terms and gives it a human dimension. Small business owners told BusinessNewsDaily they feel Washington is out of touch and out of control.

Out of touch

Brent R. Frei has started two companies in his career. He started the first, Onyx Software, in his basement in 1994 and it grew to become a publicly traded company employing more than 800 people. His second startup, also a software company, is Smartsheet, in Bellvue, Wash. Now in its fifth year, it has ten employees. Given the current economic climate, Frei told BusinessNewsDaily, he’d think twice about starting another company.

“Had I known that we’d be in today’s current trajectory of taxes , regulation and government intervention in the economy, I would not have started the second company five years ago,” he said.

High on his list of election hot buttons are the reduction of taxes and repeal of the new healthcare law. Washington needs to return incentive to small businesses to hire and grow and eliminate the uncertainty that paralyzes investment, he said.

Another frequently voiced opinion is that Washington just doesn’t “get” business, especially small business. Many see the administration as being out of touch with market realities and having a lack of business experience. And they’re not shy about voicing their anger and administration angst.

“It appears to all the world that business is viewed as the Antichrist,” said Alan Guinn, managing director of The Guinn Consultancy Group in Tennessee. “No one in this administration has tried to appear friendly or accommodating to business. No one has ever run a small business, hence no one understands the importance of small business to the economy. Huge businesses may or may not have needed bailouts, but in all honesty, I have clients that can’t get banks to finance $50,000 in inventory. When they run out of product, they are going to have nothing to sell. Then what do businesses do? They close and the employees file for unemployment .”

Small vs. really small business

Many small business owners feel that this lack of understanding is pervasive and doesn’t end at the district line.

“My biggest issue overall is that small business is way overused as a term and it is misleading,” said Keith Scandone, team leader of O3World, a Philadelphia web design firm. “I have ten people in my company. Been in business five years. And we make about $1 million a year. To me, that is a small business. To politicians, and even the small business associations, small businesses can be up to 500 people and be up to $35 million a year. Those companies have entirely different needs than I do. So first of all I wish they would start addressing real small businesses.”
Karen Port, owner of Mirage Spa & Recreation, a small high-end hot tub store in St. Louis that has annual revenues of $1-3 million, agrees with Scandone.

“The top issues for my small business are going to be different from a $50 million company with 300 employees,” she said. “I don’t have a tax, payroll, [an] accounts payable or [an] accounts receivable department. I only have me who figures out how to deal with taxes, payroll, getting invoices paid, figuring out the new laws, the ever changing taxes, etc.”

Her greatest wish for Washington is for the reduction and simplification of taxes and paperwork .
What are small businesses looking for?

“As a small business owner, it’s important for us to know how a candidate is going to help our business,” said Port. “I don’t want to hear about the bashing or the simplistic promises. I want concrete changes that don’t cost a dime.”

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.