They may represent only small businesses, but the 1,600 entrepreneurs gathered here last week sent a big message to President Carter and Congress: "Save Our Shops" or expect defeat in November.
President Carter, heeding small businesses' distress calls two years ago, agreed to convene the five-day White House Conference on Small Business and buoy the sinking hopes -- or buy the shrinking votes -- of the nation's 50 million small business owners.
Following the conference, many of the small business people from Bellevue, Wash., to Washington, D.C., said that they now consider themselves a strong political lobby and that they expect to see action.
They recommended to Carter and Congress 60 proposals to cut taxes, boost minority-owned and women-owned businesses, balance the federal budget, reform the Social Security system and revise minimum wage standards. And some of them said that if none of their recommendations for assistance are enacted during the next few-months, not only may their employes lose their jobs, but so may Carter and other incumbents.
"I think Jimmy Carter's going to be very responsive to this group because he sees himself as a small bisinessman and he sees small business as a lobby for him," said Chicago businessman Joseph Williams. "If he delivers, I think you will see a lot of Republicans vote the Democratic way this election."
Some sort of action on the conference's 60 recommendations and 15 priority items "better happen," said Dale Ziegler, the manager of a Bellevue, Wash., small business investment company. "The elected officials better follow up, because if they don't, small business will."
It remains to be seen how powerful small business really is. The administration and other politicians, however, were taking no chances.
Fhe conference has been viewed as a polticial ploy of the president, considering this is an election year and small businesses represent 80 million owners of small firms and their emoloyes, or 56 percent of the work force. Administration representatives have denied any ulterior motives and said that they did not allow other presidential candidates to address the group -- despite numerous laudatory speeches by administration officials -- because they wanted to keep politics out of the conference.
However, Carter addressed the conference on Sunday depite his statements that he would make no political appearances during the crisis in Iran. He spent much of his speech describing his administration's initiatives to help small business and imploring the cilizenry to support him. Unabashedly he regaled the crowd by telling them he expected to greet them at the White House when some of them return to Washington in 1982. He then leaped from the stage to slap their backs and shake their hands.
If that weren't enough, administration officials -- Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, Presidential Assistant Stuart Eizenstat, Small Business Administirator A. Vernon Weaver, Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Luther H. Hodges Jr. -- repeatedly praised the president and his initiatives to help small business during speeches.
SBA officials ran a large part of the show. SBA's chief counsel for advocacy, Milton D. Stewart, was the master of ceremonies for most of the conference. During the closing session, Stewart asked the delegates to stand for 15 seconds "to let the world know" that they back the president's foreign policy. In addition, Stewart himself was given a standing ovation.
Also, SBA Deputy Admnistrator William Mauk was in charge of dispensing information to reporters at daily press briefings.
Still, many delegates said they didn't consider the conference as the administration's manipulative mechanism and, if it was, they didn't care. Some said they were just glad to swap business cards, hard -- luck stories and theories on improving the economy and the business climate.
"There were sincere efforts by Jimmy Carter," said Cornell E. Champion of Hartford, Conn. "And his staff has gotten across to me his sincere efforts."
"If something does come out of this, I might he tempted to cast my ballot for" Carter, said Utah businessman, Paul Erdley. The delegates "are very impressed that the President is interested in doing this."
Leola Early of Birmingham, Ala., said when she returns home she won't tell other small business people that she was "truly satisfied with the results. But I can tell them it could be worse. We could have come back with nothing. We are taking back from this conference more that meets the eye."
But now that the delegates are home, how many of them will follow up with action on their recommendations? A committee of delegates from each of the 57 regional and local caucuses held last year will be selected to monitor Congress and the president. In addition, some monitoring sub-groups, such as those concerned with women's and minorities' issues, were formed independently at the conference.
Some of the recommendations made by the delegates already have been introduced in Congress, and it is not clear how many realistically can be acted on legislatively or through an executive order. For example, one of the the recommendations would balance the federal budget by fiscal 1981. Even without calls for increased military expenditures as a result of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan or the government's purchase of grain intended for the Soviets, it is unlikely that such a proposal ever would pass.
No issues proposed by supporters of veterans, energy, international trade or federal procurement were selected as high-priority items, although they will be sent to the president and Congress anyway. The priority recommendations would:
Replace the present corporate and individual income tax schedules with a more graduated rate scale. The maximum corporate income level receiving the maximum tax rate would be raised from $100,000 to $500,000.
Revise estate tax laws to ease the tax burden on family-owned businesses and encourage the continuity of family ownership.
Permit deferral of taxes for rollovers of investments affecting small businesses.
Provide tax incentives in the form of a new security called a small business participating debenture to provide capital for small businesses.
Adopt a simpler accelerated cost recovery system to replace the present one to give small business a break in depreciating equipment for tax purposes.
Establish mandatory goals for all federal procurements and funds to states, localities and institutions giving small business 35 percent, minorities 15 percent and women 10 percent of that business.
Support passage of the Senate Small business Innovation Act of 1979 and companion bill.
Balance the federal budget by statute in fiscal year 1981 by limiting total federal spending to a percentage of the gross national product beginning with 20 percent and declining to 15 percent.
Reform the Social Security system.
Revise minimum wage standards by freezing them at January 1980 levels and exempting teenagers, seasonal workers and part-time employes.
Require lending institutions to provide equal access to commercial credit for women in business. The government would monitor the number of loans to women.
Allow Congress to review all laws, regulations and agenceis to make sure they don't exceed their original congressional intent.
Permit small businesses to receive reimbursement for court costs, reasonable attorney's fees and damages from administrative action if acquitted of violating federal regulations in civil court disputes.
Requrie federal agencies to submit small business economic impact statements on regulations affecting small business.
Expand the SBA's advocacy office.
The president is expected to receive the report in 60 days. What happens after that is largely up to him and Congress.