Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

Originally published on The Huffington Post

The level of inaction in Washington is stunning.

The relief among pundits, news hounds and politicians was palpable when insiders announced last week that Congress is expected to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open past the end of the month.

Don’t get me wrong. We all are happy to avoid another government shutdown. But, when did the bar dip this low? How is it possible that agreeing to keep the government running for a few more weeks is treated as a victory of governance when our economy is limping along?

After enduring a paralytic Congress more concerned about re-election than governing the nation for years, small businesses have had enough.

Enough to the lip service they get about being the “backbone of the American economy” when it isn’t followed up with meaningful action to help the economy improve.

Enough to the lip service that in reality hijacks small businesses’ good name to support policies that only help big companies.

Enough to the lip service that does nothing but check a political box on a campaign trail.

Small business owners — people who work hard, hire workers and make the difficult decisions needed to stay in business everyday — are tired of being pandered to. They are tired of empty words. They want action.

So this week Small Business Majority is releasing its Economic Agenda for America’s Future — a set of policy recommendations that will ensure an environment where entrepreneurs, and our economy, can thrive. In addition to long-term recommendations, the Agenda also includes things Washington, not just Congress, can do right now, over the next few months, that will go a long way toward bolstering small businesses.

And because small businesses are not simply the backbone of the economy, but are its very foundation, Washington moving on just one or two of these policies will help small businesses succeed and our economy more fully recover.

The recommendations range from action on taxes, infrastructure and healthcare to immigration and exports that are all tied to creating opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Why? Because small businesses make up 99 percent of the businesses in this country. They employ half of America’s private sector workforce. And, they create jobs.

Small businesses have been doing their part — outperforming big business on the job creation front every month for the past year. But, they can do more if Washington will only step up and take a role in helping fuel this engine for growth.

For example, over the next couple of months, Washington can create greater opportunity for entrepreneurs on several fronts, including:

  • The president can take executive action to allow more legal immigrants into the United States to ensure small businesses have access to skilled workers, at both the high- and low-skill level.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission can release final rules for crowdfunding (after having spent more than two years deliberating on them) to provide small businesses more opportunities to get capital and investment in the growth of their businesses.
  • Health and Human Services can make sure the online small business insurance marketplaces work on Nov. 15 (after being delayed for a year) so small business owners and their employees have greater access to affordable coverage.
  • Congress can pass a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, not just an extension of a few months, to ensure small businesses (for whom nearly 90 percent of its transactions were for in 2013) have the ability to compete for customers in the global market.

And, the list of things Washington can do to help small business over the next two years is even greater.

An August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 71 percent of respondents blame Washington’s inaction for what they view as a lingering sluggish economy. That’s shameful.

Our political leaders need to stop just paying lip service to America. They need to stop trying to convince Americans that the real work has to wait until after the next election, and then the next election.

We can rebuild our economy to the height it was before the Great Recession. And, it begins with helping small business thrive.

There are many complex policy issues that have a major impact on the small business community. Each week, we’re going to help break one of those issues down so small business owners can stay in the know and remain aware of their stake in these national issues. This week’s Issue Q&A is on youth unemployment.

Q: Why is youth unemployment a small business concern?

A: Nearly five years have passed since the end of the Great Recession, yet 6.7 million young Americans are unemployed – a staggering number that negatively affects economic demand and hurts small businesses. Additionally, small employers are struggling to fill job vacancies that are crucial to both their individual success and our overall economic growth. In fact, 40% of American employers cite lack of skills as the No. 1 reason for entry-level vacancies.

Q: How can small businesses help alleviate the youth unemployment problem?

A: Small employers are in a unique position to create professional opportunities for young people to help bridge the gap between youth who are out of school and out of work, and small businesses who are having difficulties filling those entry-level positions with qualified workers. Small businesses have an advantage in matching young people ready and willing to work with employers who need their help to build and secure their business future and a stronger economy.

Q: What sorts of opportunities can small businesses provide unemployed youth?

A: There are many steps small businesses can take to help train the workers of today to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Small employers can increase the number of opportunity youth hires within their company, expand full or part-time internship or apprenticeship programs, adopt or expand mentoring programs for local youth and partner with nonprofit training providers to create new mentoring, job-shadowing or recruiting programs.

Q: Where can I learn more about taking action on youth unemployment?

A: Small Business Majority launched a sign-on campaign where small employers can pledge to provide some sort of opportunity for our nation’s unemployed youth. This opportunity youth pledge can be found on www.smallbiz4youth.com. There you can pledge your support, learn more about the issue of youth unemployment, find out ways you can provide opportunities to young Americans and read testimonials from small business owners who have already committed to help train and support our nation’s youth.

Small business owner Zach Davis

With more than 6.7 million young Americans out of school and unemployed, it’s safe to say that youth unemployment is no small matter. With so many eager and talented young workers ripe for the picking, it’s a waste to turn our backs on our nation’s youth when creating jobs and opportunities for them will bolster our economy.

In particular, small businesses are at a unique advantage in mentoring and training the young workers of today to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and small business owner Zach Davis is dedicated to doing just that.

Davis is the owner of The Penny Ice Creamery and Assembly restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA, and makes it his mission to provide entry-level jobs and training for youth.

“As an employer of a lot of young people (high school/high school grads, community college students, UC Santa Cruz students), I’m very aware and interested in the employment issues they face,” Davis said. “People occasionally express skepticism about the value of entry level service jobs, and I always make a point to mention to folks how important first jobs are in providing valuable experience and building a resume.”

Davis understands how stacked the hiring process and job market is when it comes to young workers. “Employers overwhelmingly look for people with experience, and especially when jobs are tight, people with no job experience on their resume get squeezed out.”

Studies have shown that there are tremendous consequences for young workers who struggle to secure their first jobs, having a dramatic effect on an individual’s lifetime earning potential. This is yet another reason why Davis is dedicated to providing opportunities to our nation’s youth.

“I’m very glad to be in a position of being able to offer people that first step, not to mention that I think we do a great job of training and then giving a lot of responsibility to our employees. This is something that I think is very true of small business; that small business owners often ask more of their employees because they may lack the structure and overhead that larger business have built.”

Davis sees the potential and benefits for small businesses to mentor and train young workers, which is why he signed Small Business Majority’s commitment to youth opportunity pledge, which urges other small business owners to commit to taking action to remedy the rampant problem of youth unemployment and help train the workers of tomorrow.

Because of the way small businesses operate, Davis believes that other small business owners can take action and provide similar opportunities to make a true dent in the youth unemployment issue.

To learn more about providing opportunities for unemployed youth or to pledge your support, visit www.smallbiz4youth.com.

There are many complex policy issues that have a major impact on the small business community. Each week, we’re going to help break one of those issues down so small business owners can stay in the know and remain aware of their stake in these national issues. This week’s Issue Q&A is on extreme weather.

Q: Why is extreme weather a small business concern?

A: Small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather events and can suffer lasting economic damage as a result of a single extreme weather event because many lack the access to capital and resources of many large corporations.

Q: How does extreme weather impact small businesses?

A: Extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy or the extreme weather that pummeled much of the East Coast this past year, can cripple small businesses, and force many of them to shut down operations, losing money along the way. This has  forced some to pay exorbitant repair costs and even lay off employees. And those are the lucky ones. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25% of small to mid-sized businesses do not reopen following a major natural disaster.

Q: Why aren’t small businesses better prepared for extreme weather events?

A: Simply put, a majority of small businesses have not closely analyzed the potential economic losses from extreme weather events due to a lack of resources to do so. In fact, 57% of small businesses have no disaster recovery plans in place.

Q: What can be done to shield small businesses from damaging extreme weather?

A: There are several pieces of legislation in Congress that lawmakers should consider passing that would help small businesses protect and better prepare themselves for extreme weather events. One of which is the STRONG Act. It would build upon existing extreme weather resiliency efforts to provide state and local planners with tools and information needed to develop and improve extreme weather resiliency efforts. Additionally, the Small Business Administration should begin assessing the effects of climate change and extreme weather on the small business community to better educate small employers and lawmakers on this issue.

Jeff Thorner, CEO of Sumner Furniture

Office furniture is often just a boring afterthought for many. But Sumner Furniture sets out to put the fun in functional when it comes to adorning offices with top-notch furniture.

Jeff Thorner, the self-proclaimed Furniture Guy, is the founder and CEO of Sumner Furniture in Washington, D.C., and he’s on a mission to help make your office stand out.

“Furnishing an office is one of the biggest investments you’ll make as a business owner,” Thorner said. “The process can be overwhelming and often times our clients have never gone through the process before.”

Luckily, Sumner Furniture is here to outfit offices with quality, affordable and design-oriented furniture, be it ripped straight from the latest catalogues or one-of-a-kind custom designed pieces, and it has become the go-to national supplier for start-ups since 2013. And that’s exactly how Thorner started Sumner Furniture – from the ground up.

“I’ve always known I wanted be my own boss,” he said, reflecting on his years of work in finance and the sense of unfulfillment it left him with. “I never felt like I was truly offering a valuable service and it’s important to me to find ways to help others on a daily basis. I was also miserable sitting at a desk all day.”

It took a year, but Thorner finally quit that dead-end desk job and went to work for a small furniture company. Things were going swimmingly until the owner couldn’t make payroll.

“All of the sudden I was out of a job with a kid at home and a second on the way. I spent a day or two licking my wounds and then decided this was my time to start my own business. The next day I incorporated and I haven’t looked back since.”

And Thorner hasn’t needed to. After all, Sumner Furniture has been bringing décor to the forefront for many new start-ups and small business owners. “As a small business, we understand the unique demands and needs of our fellow start-ups and small businesses.”

Sumner Furniture is a full-service office furniture company, providing both new and pre-owned furniture and handling the design and installation of it. But it’s their consultative approach that truly sets them apart.

“Sumner Furniture’s greatest asset is our ability to listen and anticipate client needs,” he said. “We are experts in what we do and we pass that expertise onto our clients. We provide excellent pricing because the heart of our business – what matters to us most – is helping other start-ups get their needs met so that they can grow, as well.”

That hard work and customer service-oriented approach has certainly paid off as demand for Sumner Furniture’s products and services has skyrocketed: “My phone is always ringing, buzzing or dinging.”

Finally his own boss and seeing the payoff he’s been waiting his entire career for, Thorner is in the position to bring that success and happiness to new start-ups and business owners, one swanky cubicle at a time.