5 Ways Washington Is Actually Helping Small Businesses
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
If you’re a small business owner you’ve got plenty of reasons to complain about leaders in Washington: high taxes, enormous deficits and debt, regulations, healthcare rules, gridlock…you know about this. But here’s something you probably didn’t know: The U.S. federal government is actually making your life as a business owner easier and more profitable. How?
Just ask Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the outgoing head of the House Small Business Committee. Graves has been on the committee for more than a decade (and is now stepping down due to term limits). And ask Maria Contreras-Sweet, who has been the head of the Small Business Administration and a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet since last April. Both are responsible for helping small business. And both say they are doing so.
Here are five ways how:
1. Building awareness
“The biggest thing the committee needed to do was to bring relevance to the issues of small businesses,” Rep. Graves told me recently. And so they have. Among the more than 200 meetings convened by the House Committee on Small Business over the past few years, the committee (one of the few with subpoena power) has brought before them Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, FCC Chairmen Wheeler and Genachowski, SBA heads Mills and Contreras-Sweet , IRS Commissioner Werfel and a score of other powerful members of the Administration to question them on how their policies will affect small businesses. All of these meetings are part of the public record and details can be found on their website. Over at the SBA, Contreras-Sweet has maintained a heavy schedule of presentation, awards, interviews and appearances around the country to raise the awareness of issues affecting small businesses and to discuss how the government is helping. The SBA partners with various business groups like the Women’s Small Business Council and is a major force behind May’s National Small Business Week. These activities keep the concerns of small companies in the public eye.
The SBA holds seminars and webinars each month helping small businesses learn more about cash flow, financing and general management as well as overseeing its SCORE counselors who provide no-charge consulting services to any small business owner who asks. In addition, the agency has been stepping up its outreach to Spanish-speaking, Native American and military veteran entrepreneurs to help them startup and grow their companies. Both the SBA and the House Small Business Committee publish news, advice and information geared towards their small business audience on their websites and through newsletters (the House committee has grown theirs to over a million subscribers).
3. Making capital available
Contreras-Sweet, a former banker, has been obsessed with improving the availability of capital for small business owners since taking over as chief of the SBA. And she’s done a lot. Among the things accomplished so far is the zeroing out of fees on certain small dollar loans and the improvement of access to 7(a) and 504 Loan programs (for general and real estate financing purposes). “We are allowing more businesses to get through this cycle faster,” says Contreras-Sweet. “For example, if a loan application wasn’t submitted within nine months from its initial date a banker had to start over again. We’ve changed that.” In addition, the SBA has expanded their Impact Investment Fund, offered more money through their Prime Grants initiative, sponsored a Growth Accelerator Competition which awards cash prizes to startups, started a $1.5 million grant funding for disadvantaged businesses, awarded $2 million in FAST grants to certain universities that support research and development and made improvements to their Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. More is planned to streamline the approval process and remove paperwork from loan programs.
4. Fighting regulations
You can surely imagine that a House committee which is dominated by Republicans would be all about the Administration’s perceived regulatory burdens on small business. You imagined correctly. But partisanship aside, the committee has worked together to advocate against burdensome regulations, helping to get the Department of Labor child labor rule pulled and easing federal regulations on general aviators. The committee also helped pass through the House the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2011 and 2013 (which requires federal agencies to consider the impact of their regulations on small businesses) and the Jobs for America Act, which enacted changes to federal law to improve the conditions necessary for economic growth and job creation.
5. Improving the ease of doing business with the government
Contreras-Sweet has made this a long term priority of the SBA. The agency reports on the Small Business Federal Procurement Scorecard, an assessment tool that measures how well federal agencies reach their small business and socio-economic prime contracting and subcontracting goals. The prime and subcontracting components include goals for small businesses, small businesses owned by women, small disadvantaged businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, and small businesses located in historically underutilized business zones. This past year, the federal government reached its small business federal contracting goal for the first time in eight years, awarding 23.39 percent in federal contracts to small businesses totaling $83.1 billion of eligible contracting dollars. Contreras-Sweet wants to increase this to 25%.
Did you know all of this? Most of my clients don’t. Most small business owners don’t. And frankly…neither did I. “My biggest frustration is getting more people to understand what we do,” says Contreras-Sweet. And that’s a problem in itself. And although creating awareness and providing education is great, actions speak louder than words. Raising capital is important to small businesses. So is reducing regulation and connecting us to larger suppliers globally (another initiative on the SBA’s agenda). Most importantly, my clients and I need doing business with the federal government, whether it’s chasing contracts or dealing with the IRS. So much more still needs to be done. But let’s at least acknowledge what’s been done so far. Yes, Washington is helping.