Hurricane Katrina offers examples for dealing with economic catastrophe

December 22, 2011

My company provides commercial HVAC service and installation (basically air conditioning and heating) to the greater New Orleans area, and much of surrounding southeastern Louisiana. We have been in existence since 1975 and have learned many lessons over those 36 years.

Obviously, we have encountered problems similar to those currently facing our Washington based leadership — most notably trying to recover following the disaster known as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A catastrophe like that can certainly be compared to the current economic disaster being faced by the United States. The best way to survive is to face the problem quickly, assess your resources and strengths, organize your players into a strong team, minimize and quickly eliminate your weaknesses, build on relationships and go to work.

Our leaders need to do the same: Roll up their sleeves, stop posturing and go to work on the problems. Address the issues one at a time on a single item basis with no opt-out cloak behind which to hide and no extraneous matter to destroy original intent. Instruments need to be concise, to the point, readable, understandable and direct.

All players in the Beltway need to realize that cooperation is the only exit strategy from this mess. First priority must be to re-establish the confidence of their constituents, the citizens of this great country. They need to stop regulating everything that is viable as a business opportunity and allow business owners to run their businesses without interference unless there is an absolute safety threat.

They should avoid forcing unnecessary management efforts to be spent satisfying regulatory guidelines, and let business grow. Most tax credits are only valuable if you show a profit; hiring incentives are only useful if you actually need new employees; forced benefits only cause reduction in wages for existing employees and a hesitancy to bring on new help.

Reduction of taxes would show business that Washington wants to see growth, and a revived confidence could produce results.

The other way that business experience could change thinking in Washington is to do what all small business owners do when they are struggling — look at your balance sheet, and review in-house procedures and outside factors. You must analyze why sales are down (lack of consumer confidence or poor product delivery), and then review all elements of your overhead, both fixed and variable, to reduce expenses.

It is the absence of these basic business procedures in Washington that baffles all business owners when they look at actions coming from the Hill. If you are spending too much on something that you don’t need, stop. If you’re digging a hole and it is getting so deep that you can’t get out, stop digging!

As a long-time advocate and one who has often met with elected officials and discussed issues critical to small business owners, here’s my simplest suggestion not only to Congress but to President Obama as well: No matter what the item being promulgated, whether it be legislation or more new regulations, please, look at it through the eyes of someone who signs the front of a paycheck and not just endorses the back.

Mike Mitternight is president and owner of Factory Service Agency, an HVAC construction firm in Metarie, La.

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