Small Business Owners Speak Their Minds to President Obama

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on February 24, 2011
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On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed a small gathering of Cleveland, Ohio-based entrepreneurs and small business owners, stressing that America’s economic recovery depends upon the success of its small businesses.

President Obama and many of his closest economic advisers ventured into the heartland as part of a new and ostensibly broad effort to begin a running dialogue with small business owners for the purpose of better understanding their successes, failures, opportunities, risks, and ongoing impediments to expansion.

Current plans call for the White House to sponsor at least eight additional road show dialogues in the coming months in Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts, Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and California.

Small Business Owners Voice Concern

Although President Obama’s “listening tour” has only just begun, one message has already been heard loud and clear: more must be done to help America’s small businesses.

Among the primary concerns shared with Obama is the relentless difficulty in securing loans. Underscoring the tangible disconnect between small business and government, however, one session participant named Philip Davis suggested to the President during the Cleveland round table that it would be wise for his administration to “allow people to invest in small businesses without having to pay capital gains taxes.” In response, President Obama stated — with a smile — that Mr. Davis had such a good idea that “we implemented it last year.”

Understandably, many of those participating in the President’s small business forum didn’t mince words when it came to expressing their frustrations and fears. Despite several consecutive months of relatively promising economic data, political spin and optimistic rhetoric simply cannot conceal the unfortunate reality that small businesses are still closing their doors at an alarming rate. Arguably even more unsettling is the stark reality that countless highly-capable entrepreneurs remain wary of starting a small business today.

New Lending Programs Unveiled

Aiming to offset many of the concerns possessed by current and prospective small business owners, the U.S. Treasury Department announced two new lending programs Tuesday, which conveniently provided a backdrop of “talk meets action” for the start of President Obama’s listening tour.

According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, one of the programs — the $15 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative — will help credit-worthy small manufacturers and businesses obtain loans from the private sector. The other — a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund — will assist small businesses in securing loans by providing low-cost capital to qualified local community banks.

Small Business to Remain in the Spotlight

While Administration officials largely failed to dwell on the considerable Internet-related disadvantages confronting almost every contemporary small business, the national spotlight’s square placement on small business is enabling entrepreneurs to confer, learn, and, hopefully, develop new ways to combat perilous challenges that extend far beyond barriers to capital — like competing against or participating in 21st century online commerce.

Ultimately, Tuesday’s inaugural round table may have succeeded in raising more questions than providing answers. But an important dialog has begun. And the pronounced attention directed toward America’s small business is a welcome change of pace, say those who believe Washington hasn’t effectively confronted the obstacles hindering growth in the small business community.

“It’s small businesses like yours that help drive America’s economic growth and create two of every three new jobs,” President Obama told his audience in Cleveland. “You’re the anchors of our Main Streets.”

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