Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gallup misleading Congress and public

Tomorrow the U.S. House Committee on Small Business holds a hearing featuring the results of a Gallup poll conducted in October last year.  The title of the hearing is The Path to Job Creation but the better title might be The Path to Deceiving Congress.   
The issue is the role government regulations play in small business job creation.  The GOP mantra this election season is that regulations are hindering job growth and must be eliminated or severely reduced.  Last year the House passed numerous bills to do just that.  Those bills are now in the Senate where the majority party has a different perspective on regulations and what really is holding back growth in small business—lack of cusumer demand.
The preponderance of polling results last year clearly indicate that the lack of customers is the main reason small businesses have not been able to more vigorously lead us out of the Great Recession as they have in other downturns.  But the anti-regulation crowd has been trying to use the recession both to eliminate regulations opposed by big business and as a partisan weapon in this year’s elections.
The hearing tomorrow looks like an effort to elevate the regulations issue for the media and public and force the Senate into taking action on the anti-regulation bills the House has sent it.
This is where the Gallup poll comes into play.  According to that poll, 22% of small business owners said that complying with government regulations was the most important problem facing small-business owners today.   Gallup’s analysis of this open-ended question (respondents were not given answers to choose from) showed that of all the responses, “regulations” was the number one answer.
I have a Master’s degree in Social Psychology.  But familiarity with opinion polling is not needed to bust Gallup on this poll result. 
First, using an open-ended question is troubling because the decision of how to categorize each response is subjective.  A response might contain mixed messages and thus must be interpreted giving the Gallup employee the final say on what the small business owner really meant in answering the question.  At this point the employee’s own biases (or the biases of the employer) come into play throwing the accuracy of the poll results into question.  It is interesting to note that this was the only open-ended question apparently used by Gallup in this poll.
Second, Gallup’s reporting of the answers to this question clearly shows an effort to obtain the results they wanted.  Here is how Gallup listed the results:
What do you think is the most important problem facing small-business
owners like you today? [OPEN-ENDED]
Complying with government regulations                           22%
Consumer confidence                                                      15%
Lack of consumer demand                                              12%
Lack of credit availability                                                 10%
Poor leadership/Government/President                             9%
Cash flow                                                                        7%
New healthcare policy                                                      5%
Competition from big business and overseas                     4%
Lack of jobs                                                                    4%
It is not hard to see that the responses of “consumer confidence” and “lack of jobs” are simply explanations for why there is a “lack of consumer demand”.   Combining those responses we find that 31% of small-business owners identified “lack of consumer demand” as their number one response far exceeding “complying with government regulations”.
We can even make the argument that “cash flow” is a problem because of “lack of consumer demand”.  That would show 38% of the responses being “lack of consumer demand”. 
Third, Gallup only gives us 88% of the responses to this question.  Were the remaining answers so nebulous or divergent that they weren’t of value?  Shouldn’t the number of these unreported responses alone have told Gallup that the open-ended question was a problem.
So now we know how Gallup was able to report the response to the question the way it did.  Now the question is why?
The answer is clear.  This was a Wells Fargo/Gallup poll.  Wells Fargo and the other big financial giants have been vigorous opponents of the regulations coming from the passage of Dodd/Frank that is designed to protect all of us, including small businesses, from another Great Recession.  Only the petroleum/coal industry has been trying harder to turn government regulations into the boogeyman responsible for all the country’s economic problems.
The PR tactic to bash regulations has been to convince Congress and the public that regulations are hurting small businesses.  But as previously noted much of the survey work last year on the issue didn’t come to that conclusion.  Tomorrow, results of another poll will be released by three national business organizations—American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority—again throwing water on the anti-regulation rhetoric.
It is obvious that Gallup was trying to deliver to its financing partner a response the anti-regulation folks could promote.  Hence the hearing tomorrow featuring Dr. Dennis Jacob, Chief Economist of Gallup, who will talk about the poll.
But to Gallup’s credit it did ask another question with structured responses that undermines the result produced for Wells Fargo. 
Thinking ahead to 2012, what would be a primary motivation or reason
for hiring and new employees?
When revenues or sales have increased                            27%
When the economy improves                                           20%
If you need to support growth or expansion plans             17%
If you need to replace an employee who left                     10%
Having tax credits for hiring unemployed workers             7%
Some other reason                                                           7%
That’s essentially 67% of small-business owners saying “increased consumer demand” will lead to job growth.  Maybe the “when regulations are reduced” answer is buried in the “some other reason” response.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Multinationals aren't here to help

“We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” 
Remember this quote from an Apple executive as reported by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher.  It appeared in the first of a two part story that will surely win the two New York Times journalists deserved recognition for exposing Apple’s decidedly un-American manufacturing standards in China.
Remember this quote the next time you hear Apple, which is sitting on $98 billion in cash on hand, and other multinational corporations offer to help the American economy if we only lower their corporate taxes and let them bring home overseas profits with little taxation so they can hire workers. 
Remember that quote the next time Apple and their ilk lobby for more trade deals with other countries to create jobs here at home like we did with China in 2001 (we’ve lost 6 million manufacturing jobs since then). 
Remember that quote when you hear Apple and their big business elite or one of their organizations like the U.S. Chamber telling the American people that they know what is best for our country.
Remember that the real motive of Apple and other multinational corporations is not to solve America’s problems.  That’s because they are not American businesses any longer—they’re “citizens of the world” Thomas Friedman correctly points out in his column yesterday.
These multinationals have no allegiance to any country.  They have only one goal—to make as much profit for their executives and shareholders as possible by increasing production and lowering costs.  The slave-labor like conditions and slave-labor wages at Apple’s Chinese manufacturing plants are detailed in the New York Time’s stories.
Likewise, America should have no allegiance to these multinationals.  When Steven Jobs told President Obama last February that the iPhone jobs aren’t coming back to America, the President should have told him that we were going to start getting tough on trade enforcement.  No longer should we allow other countries to produce cheaper products due to little concern for their workers and environment.  “Meet our standards or pay tariffs” the President should have told Mr. Jobs. 
Almost a year after that meeting with Mr. Jobs, the President did call on tougher trade enforcement in his State of the Union.  Let’s hope he means it and give him our support.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why campaign spending rules hurt small business

CNN Opinion
January, 26, 2012
By David Brodwin, Special to CNN

(CNN) -- Two years ago, the Supreme Court upended the rules for campaign finance, unleashing a tsunami of unregulated, unrestricted and undisclosed spending that has, in effect, allowed donors to buy elections. The full impact of this decision is just now becoming clear, and it's bad both for America's businesses and for our democracy.

By a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court affirmed that money is essentially speech -- a notion first addressed in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 -- and it outlawed nearly all restrictions on independent spending by corporations or other groups, including unions, to influence elections. Such restrictions are unconstitutional violations of free speech, the court said, and are prohibited by the First Amendment.

You might expect business owners to welcome the elimination of these restrictions, but if so, you're about to be surprised. A recent poll conducted by Lake Research found that 66% of a random sample of 500 small-business owners believe the Citizens United decision was "mostly bad" or "somewhat bad" for small business. Since small businesses create 70% of new jobs in the private sector, according to the Small Business Administration, their view should matter a lot.

The poll was commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council, the Main Street Alliance, and Small Business Majority -- three groups that represent the views of small business and which have a combined membership of more than 100,000 small businesses nationwide. The poll tapped the views of 500 small-business owners nationwide, most of whom are not members of the organizations conducting the survey.

In addition to taking a dim view of Citizens United, 88% of the small-business owners in the poll had a negative view of the role money plays in politics. (The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.)

Small-business owners believe in our market-based, capitalist system, which depends on open and robust competition.

Unlimited campaign spending undermines this competition, in three crucial ways.

First, allowing unlimited money into politics allows the past to hold the future hostage. Companies (and individuals who own them) with sufficient resources to sway elections often represent the industries and companies of the past, rather than the industries and companies that are creating the future.

The evidence on this is indirect, because since Citizens United was announced less than a year before the last federal election, its impact has not yet been fully felt or measured. However, we can gauge its future impact by looking at lobbying expenditures, for which multiyear data is widely available. For the period 2008-2011, the computer and Internet industry -- a wellspring of innovation -- spent $458 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while the energy and natural resources industry spent more than three times as much: $1.55 billion. The ratio for election-related spending, post Citizens United, will likely be similar.

Second, allowing unlimited money in politics allows the big to achieve an unfair advantage over the small. This is ironic in light of the huge role small business plays in creating private sector jobs in America, even as some large corporations act as net destroyers of American jobs, when outsourcing and offshoring are factored in.

For example, this kind of money in politics gives power to the push by big companies to repatriate offshore profits, giving some big and profitable multinational corporations lower effective tax rates than the grocer on Main Street.

Moreover, unlimited contributions give major Wall Street firms the edge over community banks, because the big banks can win loan guarantees, taxpayer bailouts and deeply discounted borrowing rates that smaller banks can't touch.

Third, allowing unlimited money in politics allows companies to collect IOUs for special favors from presidential candidates -- particularly as a result of contributions made early in the election season, when a few million dollars can swing the result in a small state like New Hampshire.

America's small-business owners embrace competition -- but they demand the competition be open, robust and vigorous. They don't want to be whipped by big corporations that bought an unfair advantage from senators, congressional representatives and other elected officials. When that happens, it's bad for business and America. Many solutions have been proposed, ranging from the Supreme Court reversing its decision, to legislation, to a constitutional amendment.

Momentum for change is growing, as candidates from both political parties learn what it's like to have a campaign with broad public support crushed by a single individual with deep pockets who steps in to help the other side.

Citizens United is an assault on our economy, which is supposed to be based on vigorous, free and open competition. It's time for us to reinvigorate our economy by getting government out of the protection racket, and preventing industries and companies from buying special favors. We must undo the damage wrought by Citizens United.

David Brodwin is a co-founder and board member of the American Sustainable Business Council, a liberal-leaning, nonprofit national business coalition that advocates for public policies that meet the realities of the 21st century global economy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

OPINION POLL: Small Business Owners Say Access to Credit a Problem; Support Current Proposals to Boost Economy

January 26, 2012

Opinion polling released today shows 90 percent of small business owners believe access to credit is a problem and that loans are harder to get now than four years ago; majority support key provisions in president’s American Jobs Act

Washington DC, Jan. 26, 2012 – Opinion polling released today shows 90 percent of small business owners see the availability of credit as a problem for small business, and they strongly support increasing the lending authority of community banks and credit unions. Small business owners also support current proposals being debated in Congress that aim to boost the economy and create jobs.

Small business lending has become such an issue that 90 percent of small employers support community banks and credit unions being able to lend more to small businesses, and 82 percent support more stringent credit card regulations, such as clearer identification of terms and interest rate caps, according to the poll released by the American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority. Additionally, 61 percent say it’s harder now than it was four years ago to get a loan.

The poll also asked respondents about proposals in the president’s American Jobs Act. The vast majority, or 69 percent of small business owners support committing $50 billion to new and existing infrastructure projects that would generate jobs—such as making improvements to road, bridge and water systems. Another 59 percent favor creating a nationwide wireless network and improving the accessibility of high-speed wireless services. Read the report here.

“Loans that will help small businesses grow and create jobs are harder and harder to come by,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “With banks’ lending portfolios shrinking and small businesses’ dependence on credit cards growing, lawmakers need to look for smart ways to revamp the credit landscape.”

“Small businesses create 65 percent of the net new private sector jobs in America,” said David Brodwin, co-founder and board member of ASBC. “Our deregulated, damaged banking system isn’t providing the credit they need, and they are calling for change.”

“Small business owners want action from Congress to boost the economy,” said Kelly Conklin, owner of Foley-Waite Associates in Bloomfield, New Jersey and a leader with the Main Street Alliance. “Invest in infrastructure to build the foundation for business success. Take serious steps to deal with the mortgage crisis and restore consumer purchasing power. Put teachers and firefighters back on the job serving our communities and boosting local economies. That’s what small businesses need.”

Additional findings in the report include:

  • 52 percent of those surveyed have turned to credit cards to finance their business
  • 6 in 10 small business owners support making loans more accessible by reducing collateral requirements
·         77 percent support creating incentives for community banks to lend more
  • By a 2:1 margin, small businesses support increasing credit unions’ lending cap from 12.25 percent to 27.5 percent
  • 73 percent of small employers believe their business has been hurt to some degree by the drop in consumer demand resulting from the housing and mortgage crisis
  • 57% of respondents agree reducing the principal on underwater mortgages to the current market value would boost consumer spending, helping small businesses regain their vigor through increased profits.

For more information on these poll findings, visit:

Poll results represent findings from an Internet survey of 500 small business owners nationwide, commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority and conducted by Lake Research Partners. The survey was conducted between December 8, 2011 and January 4, 2012. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

The American Sustainable Business Council is a network of business organizations representing over 100,000 companies and 200,000 business leaders. ASBC advocates for public policies that meet the realities of the 21st century global economy including strategic investments in workforce and infrastructure; standards and safeguards that promote innovation, prevent abuse and protect critical resources; and a new sustainable economic model that fosters a growing, economically-secure middle class. http://www.asbcouncil.org/

The Main Street Alliance is a national network of state-based small business coalitions. MSA creates opportunities for small business owners to speak for themselves on issues that impact their businesses and local economies. www.mainstreetalliance.org

Small Business Majority is a national nonpartisan small business advocacy organization, founded and run by small business owners, and focused on solving the biggest problems facing America’s 28 million small businesses. We conduct extensive opinion and economic research and work with small business owners, policy experts and elected officials nationwide to bring small business voices to the public policy table. www.smallbusinessmajority.org

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

White House hears calls for action

I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.—President Barack Obama, State of the Union 2012
A lot of people, including me in my blog on Monday, have been calling for the President and Congress to take strong action to stop the housing foreclosure crisis not only to keep hard working American’s in their homes but also to revive the housing construction industry.  Last night President Obama indicated that he has heard our message and will challenge Congress to force financial institutions to allow “responsible” homeowners to refinance at today’s rock bottom interest rates with “no questions asked”.

That’s great news.  But now we need to see the details of the plan.  How are “responsible” homeowners defined?  We need to include as many homeowners as we can, not just ones current in their mortgages.  And we also should include investment properties not just owner-occupied housing.  It hurts the economy and property values just as much went a rental unit occupied by a working American is kicked out of the house they rent due to foreclosure. 
The bigger issue is how do we stop the big banks from killing the idea in Congress?
On Monday I said, “It is time for these private banks to give back to the country for bailing them out.  The profits they’re reeling in now wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the taxpayer.”  Last night the President said the program “will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”

But I doubt that our calls for the big financial institutions to grow a conscience will be effective.  That's why we must all push hard against the upcoming lobbying effort to stop this plan.  Tell your member of Congress to support the President on this issue.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Funding a resource for small business

It would be nice to believe that with Rick Perry dropping out of the GOP primary last week that the idea he floated earlier this month in South Carolina of killing off the Small Business Administration would itself be killed off.  But that’s not going to happen.

There are still too many politicians willing to sacrifice one of the only federal agencies charged with providing services to small business for the goal of deficit reduction.  And there are too many small business owners siding with the SBA-bashers because they have no clue as to the services of the SBA and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) if funds. 

So here is a primer on the SBDC in South Carolina.  It is a statewide network of 17 local centers promoting economic development through business consultation to new entrepreneurs and existing small businesses.  The program is supported with federal, state, local and private funds and is open to any present or prospective small business owner generally fee free.  As one of the few state supported efforts to help small businesses grow and prosper, the SBDC sees upwards of 3,500 entrepreneurs and current small business owners a year. 

Nationwide it is the same positive story.  The country has 900 local SBDC’s that provided services to over a half million entrepreneurs and small businesses in 2010.  SBDCs help those thinking about starting a business or  needing help in applying for a loan as well as working with existing small businesses wanting to find new markets or trying to right-size in the face of a bad economy.

Talk at the federal or state levels of ending the SBA or under funding the SBDC is economic development foolishness for those saying they want to create or save jobs.  We should be expanding the SBDC’s ability to serve our state’s small businesses and that’s why the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce supports our SBDC’s budget request of $520,000.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A needed message in State of the Union address

One of the issues we are expecting to hear about in President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night is the housing crisis.  Economists tell us that the nation’s economy won’t dramatically improve until the housing market stabilizes and demand for new homes gets back on track.  That’s how important the housing construction industry is to creating jobs.
But that industry won’t be coming back for a while if there is no effective action taken by the federal government.
As I pointed out last October, according to an analysis by McClatchy Newspapers, at that time there were 2.2 million homes whose owners had received initial foreclosure notices or notices of default but hadn’t yet been foreclosed on.  Another 1.9 million properties at that time had owners who were 90 days or more behind on their payments but hadn’t yet been served with foreclosure notices.  That’s 4.1 million homes that are soon to be put into the foreclosure bucket.  To put that into perspective the official number of all houses for sale in the nation is only 3.5 million.
The drum beat for the President and Congress to take strong action to solve this crisis to boost our economy has been growing.  Last week 27 Congressional Democrats from California asked for a meeting with the President after meetings with top Administration officials such as Tim Geithner failed to produce needed action.
For some time I’ve been advocating that we should “muscle the private banks and Fannie and Freddie to do everything in their power to keep the current home owners in their homes by letting them refinance at today’s rock bottom rates (no questions asked) and, if necessary, reducing the principle they owe.” 
There is a push in the House to have the government-controlled Fannie and Freddie write down mortgage principles for owners deep under water.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wrote this month that “it might be worth the expense to lose money now in an effort to shore up the books of the government-sponsored enterprises for the long term while helping the economic recovery.”
But what about the big private banks of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Ally Financial?  The states’ attorneys general have been working since the fall of 2010 to have these financial giants help the homeowners they victimized by their earlier foreclosure papers robo-signing scandal.  However this agreement is expected to compensate only about one million homeowners with principle reductions.  That will be too late for many and a drop in the bucket to really help our economy.
It is time for these private banks to give back to the country for bailing them out.  The profits they’re reeling in now wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the taxpayer. 
A call for principle reductions and the lowering of interest rates for both public and private mortgage holders in trouble should in the President’s speech tomorrow night.  If he really wants to get the economy rolling sooner than later, this is the course of action we must follow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Small Business Strategies: Obama's proposal could hurt

By Rhonda Abrams, USA TODAY
January 20, 2012
Want an SBA loan? Don't bother applying if you needed less than a few hundred thousand dollars.
In looking at President Obama's just-announced proposal to combine the SBA with five other agencies, I'm fearful we'll soon return to the days when small business received little attention and fewer dollars from the government.

The president has proposed to consolidate a number of departments focused on business and trade into one super pro-business agency. The goal is laudable.

"We'd have one department where entrepreneurs can go from the day they come up with an idea and need a patent, to the day they start building a product and need financing for a warehouse, to the day they're ready to export and need help breaking into new markets overseas," Obama said in announcing the plan.

Everyone can agree it's a good idea to make it easier to navigate government programs and reduce government waste.

But is this really the place to start? After all, it's not like small-business programs are rolling in dough. The network of Small Business Development Centers — one of the most efficient and effective government programs ever created — now receives what one person so aptly described as "budget dust."

"These changes would help small-business owners like you. It would also help medium and large businesses," Obama said.

Uh-oh. What do you think's going to happen when programs charged with helping businesses like yours and mine get subsumed in an agency charged with helping large corporations, too? Who do you think is going to get the bulk of attention?

It doesn't have to be malevolence, just human nature.

If I'm a government official charged with helping businesses grow, it's a lot less effort to help one 3,000-person company grow to 5,000 employees than helping 200 small companies add 10 employees each.

I'm also somewhat concerned about the president's use of the term "entrepreneur."

A trend is developing with some entrepreneurship advocates to focus only on fast-growing companies with the potential of being the next Google, Apple, or Microsoft.

I love those kind of companies. Heck, I live in Silicon Valley, and I'm surrounded by entrepreneurs working on building mega-businesses. America needs them, they keep us competitive and they create tens of thousands of jobs.

But America needs companies with 10 employees as well as 10,000.

Companies with fewer than 20 workers employ more than 21 million Americans, and companies with fewer than 100 workers employ about another 21 million. That's roughly a third of all working Americans.

And that's not counting the many millions of one-person businesses — the self-employed construction workers, consultants, hair stylists, software programmers. In much of America, self-employment is the only path to a middle-class income.

Small businesses and the self-employed represent a significant portion of our economy. We need a decently-financed, strong agency that will work especially for small companies with an independent voice.

If the president's plan goes through as proposed, small businesses will lose their seat at the table.

Obama just elevated the Small Business Administration chief, Karen Mills, to a Cabinet position. But she shouldn't get too comfortable with her chair. In the proposed agency, the new director would replace her.

I'm all for creating a one-stop website to make it easier for companies to access all the resources available from the federal government. But that doesn't require restructuring a bunch of agencies. In fact, Obama announced that he's soon launching a site called Business USA.

Why collapse the SBA?

Being part of a larger agency is almost certain to diminish what little voice it has now. Instead, why not give the Small Business Administration greater powers, bringing more of the far-flung programs within other agencies under its purview?

Details of the proposed uber-agency have not yet been explained, and we'll have to see what those are.

But, remember, while it may be a great idea to bring all the animals under one roof, when you do, the smallest ones are most likely to get trampled.

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest is the 5th edition of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Register for Rhonda's free newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com and "like" The Planning Shop on Facebook for updates. For an index of her columns, go to smallbiz.usatoday.com. Twitter: twitter.com/RhondaAbrams.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Help communities be more small-business friendly

Since 2006 the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce (SCSBCC) has been advocating for our Department of Commerce to develop a community-based development plan modeled after one started in 2004 by Georgia’s Republican Governor Sonny Perdue.  The concept was simple but effective.  Help local communities become more small-business friendly by providing expert consultation on the ground to develop a plan and assist in working the plan. 
Our Department of Commerce has always supplied that kind of on the ground support for community efforts to recruit big business and we should do the same to help grow small business.  Unfortunately, Commerce and our Governors have never agreed with our proposal.  Consequently South Carolina still does not have a comprehensive and promising small business economic development plan.
Fortunately Senate Vincent Sheheen has been a supporter of our concept and has introduced Senate Bill 1089 that would create a Division of Small Business and Entrepreneurial Development within our Department of Commerce.  Included in the responsibilities of this Division would be the implementation of our community-based economic development assistance program.
The SCSBCC appreciates Senator Sheheen’s leadership on this important issue and supports S.1089.  You can reach Senator Sheheen to offer your support by clicking here.
You can also ask Senator Greg Ryberg, chairman of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee, to support S.1089 by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poll Results--Money in Politics

Small Businesses Reject Role of Money in Politics; View Citizens United Decision as Bad for Business

On Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Citizens United decision that corporations are free to spend unlimited sums of money in elections. According to opinion polling released by the American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority, two-thirds of small business owners see this decision as bad for small business. The poll also shows small business owners overwhelmingly believe corporations have been given too much freedom to spend money that directly influences political campaigns.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Solar and Recycling

The second week of the SC General Assembly starts today so it’s time for a few more issues from the South Carolina Small Business Chamber’s (SCSBCC) legislative agenda.

SCSBCC has a long history of supporting renewable energy and conservation.   It’s safe to say that environmental groups have no bigger ally in the general business community than SCSBCC. 

This year we are once again supporting House Bill 3346 that establishes a 35% tax state credit for the installation of solar energy equipment on commercial buildings.  Promoting solar business in South Carolina to create a vibrant industry and many new small business jobs as in North Carolina requires similar tax credits as in our neighboring state. 

In addition to new jobs, a growing solar industry will reduce the need for construction of expensive new energy producing plants and also reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change that threatens our small-business tourism and outdoor recreation industries. 

The SCSBCC also supports efforts to recycle in order to conserve natural resources and to promote the development and growth of new small businesses.  However, Senate Bill 461 mandates that bars and restaurants absorb the cost of recycling all bottles and cans so that upstream recycling businesses can use these resources to make products and money. 

But these bottles and cans are part of the recycling supply chain.  They are the paid-for assets of the bars and restaurants.  Consequently, bars and restaurants should not only be kept whole in the recycling effort but receive compensation based on the value of their resources to the rest of the industry. 

And that’s the problem with S.461.  It would mandate restaurants and bars incur recycling costs with only token and far insufficient compensation—a mandate that even some in the recycling business aren’t comfortable.  The bill has no real incentives but it sure has a big punishment—threatening to strip a business of its license to operate if it does not comply. 

S.461 can be amended to give the proper positive encouragement to businesses to recycle.  But if it remains all stick and no carrot, it must be opposed as irresponsible to the business community.   

Monday, January 16, 2012

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A rally at the South Carolina State House to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being held today.  At the same location just four days ago, hundreds attended another rally in support of an issue surely Dr. King would have approved—the promotion of homeownership for all Americans. 
Last week’s rally sponsored by the Home Builders Association, S.C. NAACP, Urban League and others organizations including the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce was to support homeownership through keeping the mortgage interest tax deduction and easier access to mortgages for qualified loan seekers.
Unfortunately, one reporter for a national publication mischaracterized those attending as “anxious homeowners” demanding “greater attention to housing problems, particularly the expected surge in foreclosures.” 
But while the reporter got it wrong, he did point out a major obstacle facing homeownership today—the glut of present and future foreclosures due to the great recession that are standing in the way of a revitalized economy and a reinvigorated housing industry.
The administration and Congress have failed to take adequate steps to address this terrible problem.  Now this same reporter says that the administration is looking at the issue again. 
We don’t need more talk.  We need immediate action by our elected leaders to take the same crisis-mode style steps that they did with TARP to bail out the banks.   Those are the same banks that are giving lip service to helping struggling homeowners stay in their underwater homes. 
The answer is not to just rush all the millions of homes yet to be foreclosed through the process as quickly as possible as one prestigious local home builder told me the other day.  To do so would result in property values falling through the floor making today’s prices look good.   This is what Mitt Romney has advocated to help all those who want to invest in cheap rental property but the human and economic toll on the rest of us would be catastrophic.
At a Bank of America conference last month featuring President Bill Clinton talking about the housing crisis among other issues the New York Times  reported the following:

“We’ve got to do something to clean these books up, and to do it in a hurry, in my opinion,” Mr. Clinton said. Stabilizing housing and dealing with foreclosures is vital for the entire economy, he contended. “I still think that’s the single most important thing we could do to loosen everyone up, go back to a free-market, full-employment economy and have the normal transactions occurring again,” he said.
Anne Finucane, BOA’s top image-maker, was on stage with Mr. Clinton and according to the story made this response, “Sounds like we need a workout deal.”

Really?  BOA and the other big banks are already trying to work out a deal with the state attorneys general for their bad subprime mortgage lending practices.  But all we’ll probably get is some homeowners getting their principals reduced.  That’s some punishment for an industry that as a whole is doing quite well thanks to the American taxpayers. 
The workout deal we really need is for the entire country.  Forget about “punishing” certain banks for past deeds.  We need to tell all the banks to take their mortgage losses on the front end of every homeowner in trouble by keeping people in their homes at all costs to avoid foreclosures.  If that means additional government help, so be it.
If we make this a national priority, property values will stabilize, demand for new homes will go up and our economy will revive quickly. 
And American families will keep their homes, their investments and their dignity.  Now wouldn’t that be good way to honor the life of Dr. King.

Friday, January 13, 2012

S.C. Women’s Business Center ready for statewide push

By Licia Jackson
Jan. 13, 2012
The S.C. Women’s Business Center is being launched this month to provide free business counseling, technical assistance and education for women who have established businesses or who are thinking about starting a business.
The Center for Women in Charleston has received a five-year, $750,000 Small Business Administration grant to create the Women’s Business Center, which will operate out of the Center for Women’s office in Charleston.
Initially the program will serve women in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, but by the end of the year the plan is to have a presence in Greenville, said Jennet Robinson Alterman, executive director of the Center for Women.
Christie MacConnell, director of the new business center, has more than 15 years’ experience in business counseling and economic development. She worked at Maine’s Women’s Business Center, where entrepreneurial women owned such businesses as pile-driving companies, fishing boats and marble countertop manufacturers.
“We offer free one-on-one counseling service for women in business,” MacConnell said.
Included is screening to help a would-be entrepreneur make an informed decision about the viability of her idea. If the answer is yes, help is offered with market research, business plan development and networking.
The Women’s Business Center will gear up slowly, getting the word out about its services in the first quarter of 2012 and looking for partnerships around the state, Alterman said.
There’s a plan to offer some of its programs online so that anyone in the state would have access.
“Our basic workshops can be set up as a webinar, so they can look at them at any time,” MacConnell said.
As women have lost jobs or professional opportunities as the state’s economy has suffered, interest in starting up businesses has flourished, according to the center’s research. Between 1997 and 2011, women-owned businesses in South Carolina grew at a rate of 64%, compared to a national average of 50%.
Women’s Business Centers are found in all states. North Carolina and Florida have three each and Georgia has two, according to the directory of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership.
The Center for Women is a nonprofit organization offering personal and professional development resources for women in the Lowcountry for more than 20 years. The center began offering programs for women entrepreneurs in 2002 and saw the need to expand this assistance.
For more information about the S.C. Women’s Business Center, contact Christie MacConnell at 843-763-7333, ext. 212, or email info@scwbc.net.