Do lawmakers in Washington understand the day-to-day challenges of running a small business? Many employers don’t think so. Only seven percent said that they felt well represented by the previous Congress, according to a poll by the National Small Business Association.
There’s reason to believe the 114th Congress — or at least some of its new members — may have a little more empathy, though. After all, several of the newcomers are entrepreneurs themselves.
Of the 74 new representatives sworn in to Congress on Tuesday, more than a dozen ran a small business or founded a start-up before moving into politics. Not surprisingly, many of them emphasized their Main Street roots while running for office last fall.
“I’ve spent the last 37 years building my construction company from the ground up,” reads the opening sentence of Rep. Rick Allen’s (R-Ga.) biography page on his campaign Web site. “I’m a conservative small businessman, and I’ll bring my experience in job creation and principled leadership to Congress.”
Only time will tell whether that experience actually translates into any legislative victories for small businesses. In the meantime, though, here’s a quick introduction to each of the entrepreneurs who took office on Tuesday and a look at the companies they ran before heading to Washington.
Bob Dold, Republican from Illinois
Company: Rose Pest Solutions in Chicago, Ill.
Dold, who holds both a law degree and a master’s in business administration, ran his family’s pest control business, the oldest such company in the country (founded in 1860), before transitioning into politics. The company reportedly sold its pest management products to the Union Army during the Civil War.
Rep. Rod Blum, Republican from Iowa
Company: Digital Canal in Dubuque, Iowa
After putting himself through college, Blum founded Digital Canal, which provides software products for home builders and general contractors. In five years, he built the company from five to 325 employees, and he later won the Iowa Entrepreneur of the Year award in the state’s high-tech category.
Rep. Rick Allen, Republican from Georgia
Company: R.W. Allen & Associates in Augusta, Ga.
Rick Allen founded the business in 1976 and has since built it into a roughly 50-employee commercial construction company serving six states across the southeastern United States. Allen received the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Person of the Year award in 2008.
Rep. Don Beyer, Democrat from Virginia
Company: Don Beyer Automotive Group in Falls Church, Va.
Beyer got his start in the car business during a summer job in 1974, and he became general manager of the dealership a few years later. He has since built an auto empire in Northern Virginia, including nine dealerships. Beyer, who made an unsuccessful run for the governor’s office in 1997, has also served on the board for First Union National Bank.
Rep. Mike Bost, Republican from Illinois
Company: Bost Trucking in Murphysboro, Ill.
Bost started working at a young age for the trucking company co-owned by his father and uncle, starting by washing trucks and hauling coal. He later moved up to dispatcher and truck driver before taking over as owner for about a decade. Bost and his wife now own a beauty salon in Murphysboro.
Rep. Cresent Hardy, Republican from Nevada
Company: Legacy Construction & Development in Mesquite, Nev.
Hardy, a licensed contractor, owned a general contracting firm in Nevada for more than two decades. He sold the company to his business partner in 2013 to focus on his campaign. Hardy also founded a Golf Fore Kids fundraising program.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican from New York
Company: Premium Plywood Products in Altamont, N.Y.
A Harvard graduate, Stefanik holds sales, marketing and management roles at Premium Plywood Products, Inc., the small business her parents have owned for more than 20 years. The company serves clients throughout the Northeastern United States. Stefanik has also held several political roles in Washington.
Rep. Mark Takai, Democrat from Hawaii
Company: Pacific First Enterprises in Aiea, Hawaii
Takai, who previously served in the Hawaii State House of Representatives and is currently a member of the Hawaii National Guard, co-owns with his wife Pacific First Enterprises, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm in Honolulu County.
Rep. Steve Russell, Republican from Oklahoma
Company: Two River Arms in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Russell, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, founded Two River Arms, a small rifle manufacturing business, in 2012. During his tenure in the military, Russell was part of the unit that helped capture Saddam Hussein in 2004.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, Republican from Washington
Company: Family farm in Sunnyside, Wash.
Newhouse has for decades run a roughly 600-acre farm, growing hops, cherries, nectarines and other produce. He previously served as Washington state’s agriculture director, traveling home on weekends to tend to the farm.
Rep. French Hill, Republican from Arkansas
Company: Delta Trust and Bank in Little Rock, Ark.
Hill founded Delta Trust and Bank, a community bank in Arkansas, in 1999 and served as the firm’s chief executive until the company was acquired last year by Simmons First National. Delta Trust reported net income of more than $4 million during its final year as a stand-alone company. Hill also served as deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, Democrat from California
Company: Several restaurants in the Bay Area of California
DeSaulnier started out as a bartender at several restaurants in the San Francisco area and quickly worked his way up to becoming a part-owner of one of them. He later opened several popular restaurants in the Bay Area, including TR’s Bar & Grill in Concord, before taking office in the state legislature in 2006.
Sen. Steve Daines, Republican from Montana
After graduating from college, Daines spent more than a decade working for Procter & Gamble before returning to work for his family’s construction business in Bozeman. Danies later joined a local cloud software start-up, RightNow Technologies, as vice president of customer service. The start-up was purchased by Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2011.
Sen. Mike Rounds, Republican from South Dakota
Company: Fischer, Rounds & Associates in Pierre, S.D.
Rounds, who served two terms as governor of South Dakota and five terms in the state senate, later returned as chief executive and a partner at Fischer, Rounds & Associates, a small real estate and insurance firm he founded before taking office. The company has offices in Pierre, Rapid City, Watertown, Mitchell, and Sioux Falls, S.D.
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