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Small business remains biggest ‘jobs’ talking point as elections near

Small Business Administration assistant associate Calvin Goings told the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce last week that government has taken several steps to bolster the economy. Local politicians say there is more to be done, though. - Elizabeth Doll Images
Small Business Administration assistant associate Calvin Goings told the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce last week that government has taken several steps to bolster the economy. Local politicians say there is more to be done, though.
— image credit: Elizabeth Doll Images

Red tape. Regulations. Restrictions.

All are small-business buzzwords as political campaigns address the job market, arguably voters’ greatest concern, as local and national elections approach in November.

Calvin Goings, a former Pierce County Commissioner who now is an assistant associate administrator for the Small Business Administration, where President Barack Obama appointed him in 2009, told the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce last week that the economy is moving in the right direction.

Goings, a Democrat, cited 28 consecutive months of job increases as one reason behind the growth argument. But he also attributed the movement to decisions, some unpopular, made by President Obama, including the bailout that saved Chrysler and General Motors from the “real prospect of liquidation.”

Though many derided that decision, Goings noted that GM has repaid its loan and returned as the world’s No. 1 automobile manufacturer.

That is outside of the small-business realm, but Goings said it is an example of the progress that is occurring to improve the economy. The administration proposal to further improve the climate for small businesses, which generally is defined as less than 500 employees, and allow certain small businesses to forgo capital-gains taxes.

Another benefit with the assistance of the SBA, helps companies recognize that 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside of the United States. Goings said the SBA assisted 5,500 small businesses make their first exports.

“Small business is the backbone of this administration,” he said. “Supporting small business has been a hallmark of this administration.”

In 2011, the SBA supported more than $30 billion in lending to more than 60,000 small businesses. He said less than 7 percent of those loans in Washington state fail.

Goings said there are 1,300 Small Business Development centers nationally to assist “an entrepreneur writing their first business plan” to obtaining a loan. The nearest is the Washington State University-Bremerton Small Business Development Center.

KITSAP ECONOMIC CLIMATE

John Powers, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, said the makeup of this area is different from most because of the presence of the Department of Defense and Naval Base Kitsap, both of which are significant market drivers locally worth $1.5 annually.

In addition to the government jobs, Powers said they have contracts with about 10,000 employees from the private sector.

“It’s a very significant part of our economy,” he said. “It’s far and away the largest employer in our region.”

But both Powers and Employment Security economist Elizabeth Court said Kitsap County is faring better than many places for reasons beyond its military presence. Court said from a one-year period, beginning in May 2011, jobs in the public sector have decreased by 1.5 percent, while their private counterparts have increased 4.3 percent.

Several other indicators are positive for workers. The average weekly wage in 2007 in Kitsap County was $760. By the third quarter last year, that increased to $984, Court said.

And while Court said Kitsap County has not regained all of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, which peaked locally for unemployment claims in January 2010, when 4,355 people drew unemployment for at least two weeks, the economy has improved.

As of June, that number had decreased to 2,232.

Court said the county has 85,200 non-farm jobs, about 56,000 of which are in the private sector. While that number is not quite as high as its peak, Court said there are more establishments in Kitsap County than in 2005, when there were 6,254. She said there now are 6,321.

“The economy is rebounding,” Court said. “It’s slower than people would like, but the economy is rebounding.”

Powers, who noted that technology-related careers are experiencing some of the most rapid growth in Kitsap County, shared similar sentiments.

“My sense is small business have stabilized in their economic condition,” he said. “They’re growing and becoming more profitable. They’re cautiously adding to their economic base.

“Is it stronger than a year ago? Yes. The national economy has slowed a little bit, but we have firmed up a bit.”

CUTTING THROUGH REGULATIONS

Democrats and Republicans have divergent views of how much the administration has done to bolster small business and the economy, but Powers said no one debates the importance of both as election day approaches.

“We’re all part of the jobs party,” said Powers, whose non-partisan organization was founded in the 1980s under an initiative by then-Gov. Booth Gardner, a Democrat, to designate a lead economic development organization in counties throughout the state. “We all want business growth.”

Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, is vying for Washington State’s 6th Congressional District seat occupied by retiring U.S. Rep. Norms

Kilmer said he has the experience to help small businesses through serving on the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board.

Using a football analogy, Kilmer said small businesses are the “star running back” of the economy that too often gets tackled at the line of scrimmage because of regulations.

One example Kilmer gave came from West Sound Workforce president Julie Tappero’s presentation a few years ago at the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce.

Tappero said small businesses often were being fined for minor paperwork discrepancies. To address that issue, Kilmer introduced Senate Bill 5042 in February to provide regulatory relief for small businesses.

“If a small business makes an honest, first-time paperwork violation, I think it’s appropriate for them to be let off with a warning instead of having to pay a fine,” Kilmer said. “Government should be sending a message that our state should be open for business.

“If I’m elected to Congress, I will have a staff member dedicated to helping small businesses grow. I want them thinking every day how we make our small business successful.”

Doug Cloud, a Gig Harbor Republican who is a candidate for Dicks’ seat, said running his own law office helped him understand the the challenges that small-business owners face — the expense and time to obtain a business license, environment regulations, Affordable Care Act and other obstacles at the federal level, and Washington state’s business-and-operations tax.

“It becomes very difficult for someone to take the risk to open a small business,” Cloud said. “I think in order for people to start and expand businesses, you need to have a favorable environment for them.”

For Cloud, cutting the red tape means the way to encourage others “to tell government to get out of the way.”

“The more financial burden you add to small business, the harder it is for them to make it,” he said. “It’s a difficult environment for people who are ambitious. That discourages people, no question about it.”

 

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