National Small Business Week: A Great 50th Birthday

Huffington Post

America was made by entrepreneurs. Individuals whose hard work and tenacious spirits allowed them to build our nation, brick by brick and storefront by storefront, into what it is today. For hundreds of years we have relied on small business owners to carry our economy forward, buoy it when it falters and rebuild it when it crumbles. In 1963, President Kennedy proclaimed the first National Small Business Week to honor the individuals whose sacrifices and triumphs make up the backbone of this nation. This week marks the 50th anniversary of that proclamation. While the economy has had its ups and downs over the years, the fortitude of our small businesses and the honor we bestow upon them hasn’t changed a bit.

As we celebrate small businesses this week, it’s critical to reflect on their impact to our economy. Small firms account for half of private sector employment and have created two out of three net new jobs over the past couple decades.

While they have been very successful, there is plenty we can do to help small firms. There are various policies either on the books or making their way through Congress that could help small businesses right now.

A misunderstood law

Full implementation of the health care law is mere months away. Despite it being the law of the land for more than three years, the politics surrounding it continues to cloud the positive real-life implications it will have on small businesses.

Some key provisions of the law for small businesses are often overshadowed by mistruths and partisan rhetoric. For instance, it’s a fact that the law doesn’t actually require any business to offer coverage. If a business has 50 or more full-time employees but none of the workers receive a tax credit or cost-sharing reduction to purchase coverage through a state exchange, there’s no penalty — whether the employer offers health insurance or not.

What’s more, only businesses with more than 50 full-time employees are required to offer insurance if an employee gets a subsidy. In the U.S., 96 percent of all businesses have fewer than 50 employees. Of the 4 percent with more than 50, 96 percent of them already offer insurance. That means only 0.02 percent of businesses have more than 50 employees and are not offering them insurance.

Lastly, small business health insurance exchanges will be available starting Jan. 1, 2014. These marketplaces will allow small businesses to band together when buying coverage — giving them the purchasing clout large businesses currently enjoy. Tax credits of up to 50 percent of premium costs will be provided through the exchanges to help offset costs.

Reforming a broken system

Across all industries and from one end of the political spectrum to the other, small business owners firmly believe our immigration system is broken. Nine in 10 entrepreneurs say so, which is why it’s not surprising the vast majority also supports comprehensive reform and a pathway to citizenship. Our opinion polling found they believe it will be good for America, small businesses and the economy, and help create more stable workforces.

Given the need for a plan that includes a path to citizenship, the current Senate bill has overwhelming support among entrepreneurs. While we hope a carve out is included for very small businesses for any kind of E-Verify requirement, Congress should move forward quickly and pass a bill that will fix our broken system.

A taxing issue

Lowering the deficit is a big deal for small businesses. They spend countless hours balancing their books and expect the government to do the same. But small businesses are pragmatic and realistic, and they know there must be give and take when it comes to our debt.

Our opinion polling found more than half of small businesses believe a plan to create jobs should be the top priority for Congress in 2013, instead of a plan to reduce the deficit. In light of our budget crisis, however, they believe everyone should pay their fair share in taxes. Sweeping majorities think loopholes that favor large corporations should be eliminated and three-quarters say their business is harmed when corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes. Bills including these policies are making their way through Congress and should be enacted posthaste.

Small businesses get a lot of lip service from politicians. As we reflect on small businesses this week, lawmakers should remember the hard work and compromises entrepreneurs have made over the decades. This week, and every week, policymakers should recall the president who proclaimed this event and ask themselves not what small businesses can do for them, but what they can do for small businesses. Our job creators, our economy and our country would be better off for it.

This opinion piece was originally published in CQ Roll Call on June 20, 2013

Small business needs a balanced immigration bill

Originally featured in The Hill:

Immigration reform and the “Gang of Eight’s” bill making its way through the Senate right now is big news, and for good reason. Our immigration system is broken. It needs to be fixed. Small business owners recognize this and realize reform will be good for their businesses, their communities and our economy. The Gang of Eight’s bill is a huge step in the right direction toward reforming the system, but it’s not perfect. No bill is. Continue reading

Immigration Reform Key to Small Business, Economic Success

Huffington Post

Arnulfo Ventura considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Most people might say hard work had more to do with it than luck, given what he had to do to achieve the success he has today—owning and operating Coba, a successful Mexican beverage company in Los Angeles. The son of Mexican immigrants, whose mother cleaned houses and father served in the Army in Vietnam, worked tirelessly to receive the Pell Grant that enabled him to get his degree from UC Berkeley and MBA from Stanford. He then put that Masters in business to work and started his company—something every single one of the 28 million entrepreneurs in this country will tell you takes tremendous hard work and determination. But this is where Arnulfo’s “luck” came into play.

About 40 percent of Arnulfo’s business school classmates at Stanford were foreign students. Come graduation, nearly all of them tried to stay in this country, many looking to start their own businesses, just like Arnulfo. But they weren’t so lucky. Most were forced to leave because of our nation’s immigration system. Arnulfo, the son of immigrants, got to stay in this country and realize his dream and, in the process, give 10 people jobs and offer Americans a new product.

Sending talented individuals away—individuals who could make meaningful, even groundbreaking contributions to our economy—is just one piece of our broken immigration system that needs to be fixed. It makes no sense to educate talented foreign-born students and force them to leave upon graduation—just when they are about to begin contributing to the economy by working, innovating, starting new businesses and, perhaps, creating new jobs. We need immigration policies that give immigrant entrepreneurs a clear way to navigate opportunities to start and grow a business in this country.

Small Business Majority released opinion polling this week that found the majority of small business owners feel the same way Arnulfo does, and see immigration reform as a crucial rung in the ladder to small business and overall economic success. A sweeping 87 percent of small employers believe our immigration system is broken, and a large majority support comprehensive immigration proposals currently on the table to fix it.

Like Arnulfo, they recognize the need to allow not only more high-skilled workers into this country, but more low-skilled workers, as well. When you look at their labor needs, it makes sense why they feel this way. One in five small business owners who have hired immigrants say it’s because they can’t find enough U.S. citizens to fill jobs.

What’s more, many small employers who have chosen to hire immigrants say one of the biggest challenges they face in using immigrant labor is concern about following the letter of the law: next to differences in language and culture, a combined 41 percent cite concerns about whether they are complying with the law in hiring immigrants and the time and expense involved in verifying legal workers. This underscores why it’s critical to improve our immigration system and make it easier for employers to understand and comply with its requirements.

The current reform proposal being hammered out in the Senate by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” takes aim at many of these concerns. And small businesses strongly support every component of the plan we asked them about. Eighty-three percent of small employers support increasing the number of visas for legal immigrants who have advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Another 87 percent support requiring illegal immigrants with no criminal record to register for legal status, pass a background check, learn English, pay a fine and pay taxes. A vast three quarters agree we would be better off if people who are in the country illegally became legal taxpayers, so they pay their fair share and can work toward citizenship in the future. And three in four owners support revamping the guest worker system to create a new worker visa, eventually letting immigrants move beyond temporary status and switch employers to protect themselves against unscrupulous ones.

All these reforms, if passed by Congress, will help small business owners looking to employ immigrants feel more comfortable about their hires, give immigrants who want to become small business owners the opportunity to do so and put much-needed tax dollars into our country’s coffers, helping the economy on the whole.

It’s easy to see why small businesses support comprehensive immigration reform. For small business owners like Arnulfo, for which immigration is near and dear to his heart, it’s clear why he supports reform. However, of the small business owners we polled, 1 in 5 were sons or daughters or immigrants and 1 in 10 were immigrants themselves. That means the majority of small businesses don’t have the tie to this issue Arnulfo has, but still feel strongly that immigration reform is needed for the good of small business and the country.

In essence, small employers believe fixing the system will help them more easily tap into the immigrant labor workforce, make their existing workforces more stable, make them more competitive and help aspiring immigrants become entrepreneurs. Clearly immigration reform is crucial for current and aspiring small business owners’ pathway to success.

John Arensmeyer is the Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority