A Small Business Message for Obama -- Go Big or Back Off

On the heels of a national holiday that celebrates the fortitude and endurance of the American laborer, President Obama will address the nation with yet another government plan to improve job creation and economic growth Thursday night.

Meanwhile, small-business owners everywhere are breathing a collective sigh—not one of relief, but one of frustration. Just what small business needs, another pep talk—this one likely punctuated by claims that the White House’s “job-creating” policies are working, thereby justifying the need to implement more. We flinch at those famous words: I’m with the government, and I’m here to help.

It’s true, not every small business is living out its worst-case scenario. There are some who have done the exceptional, creating jobs and expanding their businesses even as new taxes and mandates cause their costs to rise and an onslaught of new regulations threatens to stifle further growth.

The National Federation of Independent Business celebrates those successes.

Capstone Mechanical, a heating and air-conditioning company in Waco, Texas, is one such example. Co-owners Stefan LeRow and Rick Tullis have shepherded their firm through a recent wave of growth that has allowed them to hire 40 new workers in the last two-and-a-half years. From 2008-2010, their revenues have grown by an impressive 50 percent. Like so many small businesses around the country, they can attribute their growth to hard work, accountability and little bit of luck.

Their success is laudable. It comes not as the result of new Washington policies but very much in spite of them.

Even as it prospers, Capstone is unable to escape the many roadblocks left by the government’s attempts to “help”. Their health-insurance premiums have soared, as much as 40 percent in recent years—hundreds of thousands more than they anticipated—a trend that shows no sign of slowing or reversing since the passage of the new health-care law. Indeed, it will probably only get worse. And to comply with the thousands of new environmental, tax and labor rules, Capstone now retains two full-time employees whose sole duties are to ensure that the company is meeting every regulatory standard for their industry. As costs increase, they can’t help but pass them on to the consumer, which is exactly what small-firm owners try to avoid. These decisions take a heavy toll on any small business, even those who are lucky enough to be growing.

In Belington, West Virginia, business at Lifetite, Steve Koepsel’s small metal roofing firm, has been booming. Only a few years ago, a shop with only five people, Steve now employs close to 30 and his revenue has increased almost ten-fold, allowing him to open a second plant last year. But even Steve, who is devoted to customer service and to his employees, dwells on the uncertainty caused by the overreach of government. He finds himself frustrated by his inability to provide health insurance, which he believes is a huge incentive for hiring. As Lifetite grows closer to 50 employees, he will have to weigh the costs of offering insurance versus paying a penalty now mandated by the new health-care law. For now, he is watching and waiting, but he may soon reach a point when the government has made it too expensive for him to grow.

These businesses and many others around the nation have survived and even succeeded in difficult times, not because of gimmicky rebates or massive government programs that offer short-term schemes to solve long-term problems, but because entrepreneurs always rise to the challenge. Americans become better in the face of adversity. It is what makes our nation so remarkable.

If policymakers only understood how much more our businesses would be growing if the shackles of government were removed, the possibilities would be endless.

One could write a book about what Washington says it can do for small businesses. If any small-business owner wrote that volume, it would contain only two words: “Back off.” Solutions lie in allowing our job-makers to do what they do best—expand, build, hire, create. They do not lie in more spending, more taxes, more regulation and more government intervention.

The president has not lost his opportunity to “go big.” On Thursday night, he can surprise us all by announcing a moratorium on new regulations or a full repeal of the health care law. Or he can offer us another languishing speech.

Unless his intention is rein-in the past two-and-a-half years of damaging federal policy and prove that he finally understands the needs of Main Street, he should leave small business out altogether. That’s right, Mr. President. Please leave us alone. What we don’t need are more mandates or more hand-outs, and we certainly don’t want to be used as a hood-ornament for politicians in Washington. Small businesses need room to breathe. And quite frankly, Main Street will be crushed if it gets any more help.

Susan Eckerly is the Senior Vice President of Federal Public Policy for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a group representing 350,000 small-business owners around the nation.