Good news from Washington: For those of you who have entrepreneurial aspirations or a desire to get out of corporate America and work for yourself, the government will build, operate and manage your small-business for you.
Last Friday in Roanoke, Virginia, the president gave Americans a few lessons about how he thinks Main Street works. Articulating his thoughts about American job creators, he had this to say: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart… because I worked harder than everybody else… If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
If I may paraphrase, what the president essentially said is this: Your small business, your personal success, your American Dream all result, not from your hard work and initiative, but from the efforts of “somebody else.”
And in the president’s parallel universe, that somebody else is none other than the federal government.
Well, if the government is handing out businesses, we must have missed the memo, because most of the small-business owners I know would beg to differ.
Just ask Claudia Kovach, vice president of City Machine Technologies, Inc. in Youngstown, Ohio. Claudia grew up in her parents’ machine shop and for the majority of her youth witnessed her mom and dad make sacrifice after sacrifice to keep the business running, to keep their customers happy, to provide benefits for their employees. They were always the last to take a paycheck, which sometimes meant they went without. Vacations and after-school activities were cancelled or missed on account of business demands. Claudia learned her alphabet by filing papers in the business office.
When they couldn’t afford cleaning services, Claudia and her family spent their weekends scrubbing floors and toilets. When an employee had a family emergency, Claudia’s dad covered his shift, driving a truck for hours. And when Claudia’s mother suddenly passed away, she returned home to take over her portion of the business so its doors would remain open.
The sacrifices were worth it for Claudia and her family. When they first opened their doors 27 years ago, they had two employees. Now they employ 85. They support 85 families with health insurance benefits and 401(k) contributions. They have survived a flood, a fire and a recession.
Like millions of other families who stick their necks out, drain savings and mortgage their home, just so they can live out their American dream, the Kovach family toiled, sacrificed and built their business. The government did not.
For any small-business owner, there are few things more stinging than the accusation that their business is indebted to the government or some other benefactor. If anything, small businesses are historically an economic and job-creating powerhouse in spite of the government. They know that hard work does matter and that the success of their enterprise depends on it.
The most upsetting aspect of the president’s unfortunate remarks is that they exhibit an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs. Unfortunately, this failure to grasp a basic understanding of how Main Street works is evident not only in his words, but in the policies the president promotes; higher taxes on job creators, more regulations on small business, and refusal to adequately address the most important small-business concern—the rising cost of health insurance.
During the course of any political season, it is inevitable that a candidate will make his or her share of misstatements. Usually, such poorly-phrased remarks are unintended, the result of exhaustion from the campaign trail but not a reflection of a candidates true beliefs or ideals.
And sometimes, they are exactly that—a revealing window into a person’s fundamental values.
If the president really doesn’t know how businesses start and survive, if he really believes the government—not spirited Americans with dreams and initiatives of their own—are responsible for building enterprises and creating jobs, maybe he should spend some time with someone like Claudia.
Dan Danner is the President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, an advocacy organization that represents 350,000 small businesses nationwide.