Why Was Your Business Missing From Last Night’s Republican Debates?
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Last night’s two Republican debates covered a wide range of issues.
Donald Trump dominated. Carly Fiorina performed well. Hillary Clinton, Rosie O’Donnell, and Megyn Kelly were attacked. Data privacy was debated and national security was discussed. The president’s record, from health care to the Iran deal, was savaged. Immigration remains a hot topic and even tax reform and entitlements were briefly mentioned.
But there was something missing, wasn’t there? Yes, that’s right. Your business. And mine.
So far, we’ve heard only passing references to the economy. And I definitely didn’t hear much said about the plight of small and medium-size companies, did you? Remember the good old days of past elections that singled us out, the small business owners, as one of the country’s most important constituents, the backbone of the American economy? Nope, not this time. Of course, there are plenty of more debates to come. And I’m sure we’ll get our due. But the first debate, which many consider to be the most important, as it sets the tone and establishes the leading contenders, failed to address the challenges faced by all of us running businesses. Why is that?
Because small business, and the business environment in general, just isn’t a campaign issue in 2016. And it’s unlikely to be.
Sure, you can find trouble spots if you dig deep enough. The energy industry is hurting. Some industry groups are curtailing their forecasts. Small business optimismis dipping. Other analysts believe that the economy is “getting soft” again. And last week’s GDP numbers were underwhelming and more indicative of one of the weakest post-recession recoveries since World War II.
But the restaurant industry is off to yet another great quarter. Small business borrowing is surging because capital is readily available. Activity in the U.S. service sector has hit a 10-year high. Gas prices are low. U.S. factory orders have rebounded. The manufacturing sector continues to grow. The national unemployment rate continues to stay low. Interest rates, though likely headed for an increase in the fall, are still at historical lows. Inflation is manageable.
Yet there are so many huge issues facing businesses today. Competition from overseas. Health care costs. Attracting and retaining good people. Adapting to the minimum wage. Responding to recent local and federal government moves to make unionization easier and to mandate more pay for time off and overtime. Worrying over whether we’re classifying our independent contractors correctly in the wake of recent rulings against Uber and others in the “gig” economy. And of course there are other, bigger, macroeconomic issues looming that are related to our escalating national debt and stubbornly large annual deficits that will some day come home to roost and affect us in many ways, from higher taxes and increased sequestration to volatility in our financial markets, which many feel are already significantly overvalued.
These are big issues. But they were ignored in last night’s debates. Why?
Because any way you look at things, most small businesses are doing OK. Of course, some are doing better or worse than others. Regions like Texas, North Dakota, and Minnesota are doing great. Others, like parts of California, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are lagging. Some industries, like energy (despite recent oil price declines), technology, and finance are booming. Others, like manufacturing in certain sectors, auto sales, and publishing and media, are not faring as well. There will always be winners and losers, regardless of how well or how poor the economy is doing. And it’s impossible to generalize how “well” the 20million to 30 million small businesses are faring in the U.S. at any given time, because there are just too many.
But let’s generalize anyway. And, to generalize, businesses, and small businesses in particular, are doing OK nowadays. Not amazing. Not bad. Just OK. We grumble about the lower pay and the hours we put in. We struggle to bring in more business and put money away for our retirement. But look around: There are obviously fewer vacancies on Main Street. You don’t hear about the “plight of small business” on Fox News or our “troubled economy” on MSNBC. We are not news. It’s not a campaign issue.
My prediction is that, as long as the economy continues to hobble along in its less-than-impressive-but-upwardly direction, you can expect to see more attention given to immigrants, the LGBT community, Iran, and of course Donald Trump’s latest bombshells and less attention to the small business community in the months ahead. We’re not a campaign issue this year. And you know what? Maybe that’s a good thing.