Area small business owners brought their insight on the challenges in the marketplace directly to The President in a candid discussion Oct. 27 at a White House Business Council Roundtable at the Nebraska District SBA Office.
The roundtable is one in a series of outreach efforts across the country by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and one of six in the SBA Region 7 four-state area of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa, to seek direct input from business owners on ways the federal government can improve economic conditions and help small firms create jobs.
Patricia Brown-Dixon, the Region 7 SBA Administrator, who oversees the SBA district offices in Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, hosted seven business owners from around Omaha and SBA resource partner representatives, including the state director of the Nebraska Business Development Center and the chairman of the Omaha chapter of SCORE, to contribute at the Roundtable. Part of the dialogue of the Roundtable, which was closed to the press to protect private comments small business owners did not want released, follow:
“Your feedback goes directly to the executive office of the President, so tell me what you would tell the President of the United States,” Brown-Dixon told the small business owners.
Brown-Dixon explained the provisions of the recently proposed American Jobs Act, elements of which are now winding their way through Congress as individual pieces of legislation. The Act and its federal legislative pieces include $247.7 million proposed for Nebraska highway and transit modernization, supporting 3,200 jobs across the state; a potential payroll tax holiday to help small businesses create more jobs; and various incentives like tax reductions for offering raises to current employees and hiring returning veterans, disabled veterans and those on seeking a job over two years.
Dr. Bennett Achigbu, president of BMAKK, an Omaha waste management firm, asked whether the federal government could extend the time limit past nine years that small, disadvantaged firms can spend in the SBA’s 8(a) program. SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program provides specialized business training, counseling, marketing and technical assistance to small businesses to help those companies compete for contracts and in the federal marketplace.
Dr. Achigbu said in some cases his firm has waited three months for payment from the federal government and praised the immediate help that was provided for prime federal contractors - a recent Executive Order by The President, reducing federal agency payment times on contracts to 15 days - a boon to struggling small businesses.
“Overall, I owe my whole business success to the SBA,” Dr. Achigbu said. “Over the last five years I’ve gone from zero to $12 million a year. That’s a testament of your small business programs.”
“Ho-Chunk, Inc is not only charged with providing jobs, but we must also train our tribal members and build an economy and homes within our community,” said Sharon Frenchman, CAO for Ho-Chunk, Inc. “We’re changing people’s mindsets so they value an education and the idea that they can actually obtain a college degree.”
During the roundtable, she recounted a success story for the SBA’s 8(a) program about the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, where the Ho-Chunk, Inc., the economic development corporation for the tribe, has led the way to reduce unemployment on the northeast Nebraska reservation from 80 percent to around 20 percent in 15 years.
Frenchman pleaded for the Administration and Congress to, “Stop putting limitations on us and caps on the amount of contracts tribally-owned firms can get. We are utilizing the revenue from federal contracts to build our community and provide jobs.”
Tommy Garrett, president and CEO of The Garrett Group, an up-and-coming Bellevue technology firm, objected to the recent federal trend of “insourcing” – a term that refers to taking tasks previously given to federal contractors and giving the responsibilities back to civil service positions.
Garrett asked whether the government was utilizing OMB Circular A-76, a regulation which determines whether private companies or government resources should be used for particular jobs. “We need to put some intellectual rigor into these insourcing decisions and do what’s best for the country.”
Garrett was confident if the government did A-76 studies utilizing small businesses in the comparisons the government would stop insourcing. Garrett also pointed he had heard there is an unfunded liability for the government civilian workforce retirement program, currently claimed to be $5.7 trillion. In comparison, he said, the federal government loses tax revenues when they insource, from the companies that would otherwise be paying for their employees whose jobs are eliminated.
Joel Merriman, vice president of strategic alliances for CSSS.Net of Bellevue, sought an answer to the problem of growing unemployment among veterans of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We need to teach them new trades, especially in renewable energy; I’m talking about a cultural change leveraging technology and creating jobs. You want to create jobs, bring back tradecraft,” Merriman offered as a solution to the problem.
Merriman also wanted the President to make goals for small business set-asides a requirement of federal agencies, noting, “Federal agencies have goals to set aside contracts to small businesses, but they’re not requirement.”
Zac Triemert, the president of Lucky Bucket Brewing Company and Solas Distillery, voiced his appreciation for the SBA-backed financing his business received over the past couple of years which he said has sparked the phenomenal growth of his company.
“I’m thankful for the SBA,” Triemert noted, crediting aspects of Recovery Act signed by President Obama in Feb. 2009, which called for a higher loan guarantee and waiver of usual fees on loans paid by borrowers. “Without them, we wouldn’t have a business. And we got a whole big fermentation vessel because we didn’t have to pay the fee,” he said.
In speaking to the provisions of the proposed American Jobs Act, Triemert commented about possible paperwork that might be involved for small businesses to access elements of the American Jobs Act or its legislation in Congress.
“You know, we hear about these programs and they sound great, but there are so many hoops to jump through, by the end of the day it falls off our radar ... the growth that we've been fortunate enough to have also leaves us understaffed and forced to make priorities,” Triemert said.
Garrett wanted the President to know, overall: “In these fiscally constrained times we need to do things smarter. We need to do things more cost effectively. We need to do things smarter to put people back to work.”