Small Businesses Were Missing From Last Week’s GOP Debate
(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)
Last week’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 healthcare 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-sized 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 optimism is 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 2.
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 ten 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. Controlling healthcare 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, increased sequestration to volatility in our financial markets, which many feel are already significantly overvalued.
These are big issues. But they were ignored in the GOP debates. Why?
Because any way you look at things, most small businesses are doing okay. 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 certain manufacturing, auto sales, 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 20-30 million small businesses are faring in the U.S. at any 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 less 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.