Small business owners represent a particularly active and influential chunk of the electorate, and as they head to the polls this week, they have plenty to consider—the state of the economy, new and looming regulations and legislative initiatives, and the overall political landscape in Washington.
So what will be front and center on their minds when they vote?
On Small Business reached out via e-mail to small employers across the country last week to find out which issue will play the most significant role in their decisions on Tuesday, and why that issue matters so much to their companies. Here’s what they had to say.
Deborah Field, co-owner of Paperjam Press, a digital print and design company in Portland, Ore.:
“When I decide how to cast my vote this week, I’ll be voting for a candidate who has solving the income inequality gap in our country as a top agenda item. To me, this includes a government that works for the people and small business rather than big business and big money. The cards are stacked against the small businesses now, and we need elected officials who will hear the voices of small business owners and level the playing field.”
Lisa Goodbee, president of Goodbee & Associates, a full-service consulting firm in Centennial, Colo.:
“One of the issues that’s most important to me is workforce training. Today’s economy has left many young people behind, and at the same time, many businesses are struggling to find qualified entry-level employees, which means there’s a skills gap that needs to be addressed.
My company recently hired a new college graduate and has benefited greatly by investing in her training. But small businesses can only do so much to combat this issue at the individual level. To make a difference on a large scale, I think we need broader action from the government, like increased funding for training programs.”
Laurie Chadwick and Lee Mercer, owners of Bed and Biscuits and Groomingdales, pet boarding and grooming companies in Santa Cruz, Calif.
“We need elected representatives with a vision for building a new economy based on clean energy, investment in infrastructure and local economies. We need to level the playing field for small business and get corporate America back to paying their fair share of taxes. And we need to take health reform the rest of the way to the goal posts with a universal, publicly funded healthcare system like the rest of the civilized world enjoys.”
Amit V. Kapur, director of technical operations at AVM Inc. a precision metal finishing company in Chantilly, Va.:
“A significant amount of our work is performed under aerospace, telecommunications and defense contracts. Currently, we find the system to procure government business unnecessarily complex. To pursue this avenue and to help grow our business we would need to hire additional staff with specialized knowledge in procurement, which we can’t afford. In every election, we are looking for legislators who have ideas to develop a straightforward, simple government contract procurement procedure.”
Ron Nelsen, owner of Pioneer Overhead Door, which installs, repairs and furnishes door products and is based in Las Vegas, Nev.:
“Immigration reform is the top issue for me during this election cycle. As a small business owner, I’m invested in improving the quality of our country’s workforce. I would benefit from more skilled workers, and I see immigration reform as a path to those changes. I’m continually disappointed in the failure of our elected officials to make progress on this front. While I know we have a divided Congress, it’s time that President Obama takes leadership on this issue.”
Susan Firestone, owner of Siw Thai Silk, Inc., a textile design and manufacturing company in Yardley, Pa.:
“I will vote for candidates that support policies that are environmentally and socially sustainable. As a company, we understand the power of businesses to contribute to solving the environmental and social issues we face. Our company works with village co-ops in Thailand under fair trade practices, and we see firsthand the impact on people when these issues are ignored.”
Michael F. Fredrich, president of MCM Composites, which manufactures thermoset composite parts (for sectors like aerospace to housewares) in Manitowoc, Wisc.:
“We live on the skirmish line of the free market system where there are many business risks. The actions we take as managers to guide our company through the hurdles faced by small businesses have life-and-death consequences as to the survival of our company. We accept these risks and challenges because we can control them.
The greatest danger to our company is what we cannot control. The federal government has amassed over $17 trillion in debt with no end in sight. Congress continues to increase the debt limit, and the Federal Reserve, with a balance sheet of now nearly $4 trillion, continues to print money to fund the deficits. There is no plan in Washington to address unsustainable so-called “fixed” expenditures or entitlements. Nothing good can happen by continuing on the current glide (down) path. I plan to vote for the most constitutionally conservative candidates on the ballot.”
Matt Grove, owner of Bagel Grove, a bagel shop in Utica, N.Y.:
“One of the issues that’s most important to me this election is raising the minimum wage. I know that a higher minimum wage increases the quality of the workforce and cuts down on turnover. The ability to retain skilled and dedicated employees is crucial for me and all small businesses. I believe that our elected officials need to take action and raise the wage nationwide. My vote this fall is going to candidates who support a living wage.”
Lawrence Nannis, owner and shareholder of Katz, Nannis + Solomon, an accounting and tax advice firm based in Waltham, Mass.:
“Partisan gridlock is the biggest issue for me in this election. However, I am realistic enough to recognize that until each party is willing to sit down with the other or there is a filibuster proof majority, that there will not be any change, regardless of who controls Congress. If there was a candidate who understood that his or her decisions impact how small businesses plan for growth, I would vote for that person in a heartbeat.
One example is the two-year extensions of tax benefits that pass in December and are retroactive to the beginning of the year and end at the end of the following year, allowing for only one year of planning for small employers. Long-term certainty and simplicity in the tax code are just one of the tools we need to properly plan for growth.”
Debby Retherford, partner at Fence Emporium of Alaska, a supplier of fences, gates and kennels based in Palmer, Alaska:
“One of the most important issues for me this election is health care. As a small business owner, it’s crucial to me that my employees have reliable health insurance. But I’ve found that purchasing coverage has been far more complicated and time-consuming than it should be. I’m excited about the launch of the Small Business Health Options Program online marketplace, which will simplify how small businesses choose health insurance plans. I’m looking forward to seeing how SHOP can help small businesses secure quality coverage.”
Les Larsen, partner at Lumenis Partners, an executive search and executive coaching company in Washington, D.C.:
“The economy is job number one. Legislators who do not focus on this issue as a top priority may be seeking new employment. Jobs are not created by government planning or fiscal stimulus. Small businesses are the primary engine of job creation, source of innovation, and long-term strength of the economy.
As long as small businesses continue to be held back by inadequate access to capital, burdensome regulations and a general environment of platitudes without substance, job creation will continue to be anemic. Everything from corporate tax structure to small business investment incentives needs to be redesigned with bipartisan recognition of small companies’ contribution to the economy.”
Aimee D. Griffin, principal at the Griffin Firm, PLLC, a law firm specializing in consultation in business and estate planning in Washington, D.C.:
“Congress’s inability to produce is the single most important issue. Small and medium-size businesses have been negatively impacted from the shut down of the government to the continuous revisiting of the Affordable Care Act. There seems to be a total disregard for the impact that inactivity of Congress has on the people. It is clearly not a matter of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. It is quite the inverse.”
Jane Snell-Simpson, president of JS-1 Construction, a housing design consulting company in Coconut Creek, Fla.:
“I care about affordable medical care for everyone. The way this country deals with healthcare is embarrassing. The cost for healthcare is astronomical. I cannot afford to pay for insurance for myself or for my employees. I would like to be able to provide for my employees. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect — far from it. But it has gotten us to think differently about solving this problem and I believe it is a small step in the right direction.”
David Glazier, president of Fleet Transportation, LLC, a luxury ground transportation company based in Alexandria, Va.:
“The single most important issue for me as a small business owner in this election is to help keep the Republican Majority in the House and turn the Senate majority Republican. I feel that would be the best way to provide some certainty in the improvement of economic conditions, tax policy, reform to the [Affordable Care Act] and energy policy change. It would lead to an end of the stalemate that has been occurring.
The most important issue steering my vote is providing certainty to business and a movement towards tax, energy, economic and healthcare policy change. Republican or Democrat, our collective goal should be an end to a government stalemate and an executive and legislative branch that manage the challenges in front of them.”
Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, a business development consulting firm for government contractors based in Baltimore, Md.:
“The single most important issue for me is creating a holistic business environment where small business can grow aggressively in all marketplaces. I took the time and voted early because I will be traveling on election day. I voted on issues, not party line. I am willing to pay reasonable taxes for government services, but I feel that states must stay competitive with neighboring states regarding taxes and fees for both residents and employers.”
Paul Millman, president of Chroma Technology Corp., a manufacturer of film optical filters and mirrors in Bellows Falls, Vt:
“Our primary customers are manufacturers of research and clinical instruments for biologists and medical doctors. We’ve noticed two important trends in this market: Funding for biomedical research is shrinking, and fewer young scientists are being funded for permanent long time positions. The major source of research funding is from the National Institutes of Health and its subsidiaries. The NIH budget for research has been largely reduced by Congress, while budgets for research are increasing in China, Singapore and elsewhere.
New products, companies and jobs naturally follow innovation. Reduced government investment in research stifles innovation and slows advances in the life sciences.”
Wayne Nelson, president of L.N. Consulting, Inc., which provides engineering design services for buildings in Winooski, Vt.:
“The single most important issue is government efficiency with respect to operations and support services. We see a lot of waste in some of the programs developed by our national and state governments. We believe that creating accountability for tax dollars will allow more capital to end up in services society really needs and possibly a reduction/hold on property and income taxes.”
Trudy Trombley, owner Truly Trudy’s, a vintage apparel and accessories company in Stowe, Vt.:
“On a national basis I’m concerned about the overall economy and the apparent shrinking middle class. We depend on the middle class to have the time and the finances necessary to vacation, as tourism drives the economy here in our town, and in many ways the economy of the entire state of Vermont.”
Leonard Steinberg, principal at Steinberg Enterprises, an accounting and financial services consulting firm in Princeton Junction, N.J.:
“The single most important issue is this administration’s war on the small business community. The antipathy towards small businesses with increases in federal and state rules and regulations imposes additional burdens on entrepreneurs. Most small businesses employ less than 50 people, yet the tax and the required administrative compliance issues require business owners to expend valuable dollars rather than growing their respective businesses. Hiring in the small business community has also contracted as a result of the imposition of the Affordable Care Act filing requirements and additional taxes imposed on S-corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships.
The entrepreneurship spirit is alive and well. All the government has to do is get out of the way and let the free enterprise system work.”
Mike Nagle, owner of Uppercut Barber Shop in Dalles, Ore.:
“I am going to vote for the leaders who have a vision to bring prosperity to the country as a whole and the middle and lower economic classes specifically. I believe near or full employment policies (infrastructure improvements, green-earth incentives, access for more students to receive low interest loans and grants, and so on) will lift the economy of the country and the business of my enterprise.”
Hester Taylor Clark, owner of the Hester Group, based in Alexandria, Va., which provides logistical, marketing and communications support to federal agencies:
“I started this company in my home 16 years ago when I needed work-life balance and the flexibility to raise my two small children. I believe there are many women like myself who would, if given the opportunity, be able to grow a viable small business. I support those candidates who support small businesses. It’s especially important that Congress and protect set-aside opportunities for woman-owned and minority-owned small businesses, as they help small companies grow and provide cost savings to federal agencies.”
Elizabeth Valleau, co-owner and chief executive of Empire Mayonnaise Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y.:
“I want lawmakers to increase the minimum wage. We built Empire Mayonnaise from the ground up as a company we could be 100 percent proud of. The ingredients we use, the production process, the quality of the offering and the integrity of the sourcing are all crucial to us — but no less crucial is the respect and appreciation with which we treat our employees. The current minimum wage allows for bare survival, nothing more. Fair wages create a healthier work environment, happier employees and a better product.”
Laura Yamanaka, president of teamCFO, Inc., a financial and accounting services company in Los Angeles, Calif.:
“The world is an increasingly uncertain place and uncertainty generally increases business risk. I am looking for elected officials who will not add to the uncertainty. Working together and not against each other in this country has become an overriding factor in determining who I will support.”
Stacia C. Aylward, chief executive of Zelos, LLC, a consulting and coaching firm for government and nonprofit clients based in Alexandria, Va.:
“What I consider when voting for candidates is how equitable, ethical and open-minded I believe the individual will be as he or she learns and grows in the role and is faced with new responsibilities. I would expect (and hope) his or her understanding of and approach to the issues that will make a difference for businesses to change and develop post-election based on ongoing feedback from citizens and their staff.”