The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recently appointed new leadership focused on both small business and the technology space. We had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Sullivan and Tim Day. Tom is the new Vice President of Small Business Policy and Tim is the Senior Vice President at the Chamber's Technology Engagement Center (referred below as C_TEC).
1. How would you describe the small business landscape in the US today?
TOM: I would describe the small business landscape by applauding the incredible diversity of interests, services, products, and opportunities that make up the quilt of small businesses in the United States. It’s easy to brag on small business when citing their job-creating prowess (2/3 of the net new jobs over the past 20-years come from small business), or their strength in innovation (small business innovates at roughly 12-15 times the rate of larger competitors). Currently, in the start of 2017, small businesses are incredibly optimistic. A survey taken after the election shows the highest rate of optimism by the small business community since 2004. The one caution I have about small business is that over the past 10-years, the rate of start-ups has decreased. That trend has to be reversed for us to see a Main Street resurgence and a full economic recovery.
TIM: From a tech perspective, there are hundreds of small tech businesses and startups popping up across the country. C_TEC is working with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center this year to accelerate job creation and access to capital for startups. 70% of all new jobs created over the past 30 years came from startups. Its critical to foster innovation and stay ahead of the cure.
2. What role does the US Chamber of Commerce play in supporting small businesses?
TOM: The U.S. Chamber of commerce supports small business in a number of ways. First and foremost we make sure that small business has an influential voice in the formation of national policy. Whether it’s taxes, access to health care, regulatory relief, and a dozen other issues, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of over 3 million businesses across America, the majority of which are small firms. Lawmakers and government officials pay attention when that number of Main Street businesses get involved. We also partner with a number of organizations that give small business the tips and tools to be successful. Our Small Business Council includes organizations like SCORE and the Small Business Development Centers – two national networks, supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, that offer counseling, advice, and training for the small business community.
TIM: C_TEC is working hard to support our startups and small businesses by being their advocate and telling their story. We also push for rational policy solutions in Congress and the Administration to allow innovation to thrive. At the Chamber, our membership ranges from startups to companies that have been around for a century. This diversity is a great advantage to our members and they each bring unique value to the table.
3. What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses today?
TOM: The biggest threat I hear from small businesses is that government is the wind in their face instead of at their back. Eric Dinger, an entrepreneur in Nebraska who started Powderhook (a digital marketing platform for the hunting and fishing industry), put it best recently when he said that small business “needs less intervention and more celebration from our government.”
TIM: Too often, government puts up obstacles to small businesses growth. C_TEC works to remove them and promote growth. The biggest threat to small businesses is a regulatory landscape that attempts to do too much. We don’t want a government that picks winners and losers. That is the job of a free market. If government starts to think that it has a larger role to play in our economy than our private businesses, large or small, that is when we get into serious trouble.
4. What do you hear from your members regarding access to capital? Is that still a challenge for small businesses today?
TOM: Access to capital continues to be a top issue for small businesses. Just this week, I heard from Maxine Turner, the owner of Design Cuisine in Salt Lake City. Her company is a well-established 37-year old firm and just last year, she had trouble getting a loan because of Dodd-Frank restrictions imposed on her local bank. The majority of small businesses still rely on community banks for their banking needs, but the landscape is changing and Non-Bank Small Business (NBSB) present new opportunities for capital. The NBSB sector is important because we’ve seen a steady decline of small business loans since 2008 and NBSB lending can help fill the gap.
TIM: Access to capital continues to be a challenge but thanks to technological innovation we are seeing barriers broken down in many ways. Startups have greater access to an audience of potential investors thanks to the internet.
5. What is one piece of advice that you would give a small business that is seeking to expand?
TOM: The one piece of advice I would give a small business seeking to expand is to get involved or be more involved with your local chamber of commerce. The networks of successful business owners, helping each other out, starts at the Main Street level and businesses and policy leaders at a local, state, and national level benefit from their input and involvement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce works every day with thousands of local, metro, and state chambers of commerce and we are tremendously proud of the small business involvement that really makes a difference.
TIM: There are lots of resources available to entrepreneurs – seek advice from peers who have successfully started businesses and always ask questions.
6. We just elected a new President, what can be done from the Oval Office to help small businesses grow?
TOM: I believe that every decision the President faces must be looked at through the eyeglasses of growth. Our economy needs to grow in order to benefit workers, schools, Main Street small businesses, and communities. Wearing those policy lenses, the President will undoubtedly focus on pro small business policies because of small businesses’ proven ability to create jobs, spur innovation, and build communities.
TIM: President Obama’s Administration led the way when it comes to technology and innovation and we’re hopeful that the Trump Administration will continue to encourage an environment that supports and aids technology growth. We can’t, and wouldn’t want to, put technology back in the box – so we need to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure its success.
7. What are some policy or legislative actions that Capitol Hill enact to could spur small business and help drive more people to start businesses?
TOM: Congress right now is considering legislation that will provide regulatory relief for small businesses. Removing the headwinds that have slowed small business creation is a good start. Then, when considering tax reform and a new health care system, small business must have a seat at the table in order to guarantee these new pro-growth policies can actually work when it comes to Main Street. The U.S. Chamber is committed to making sure that the small business voice comes through loud and clear when Congress and the President re-write the laws that govern tax and health care policy.
TIM: Last week, the House passed a series of bills aimed to spur innovation and we’re hopeful the Senate will follow suit quickly. The DIGIT Act is also a good way to bring industry to the table with lawmakers so we get sound policy that doesn’t crush innovation.
8. What are some ways workers can be ready for the jobs in technology and the future?
TIM: STEM, Coding and Development. We are working with a lot of municipalities to encourage more training in these areas so students are ready to fill the jobs that these tech startups will need. Re-training adults in these areas is also a good way to ensure our companies are getting the workers they need, and Americans stay employed.
9. Many cities across the country are trying to promote entrepreneurship, what are some initiatives or ideas to give a Mayor to bring more technology companies or new businesses there?
TOM: Mayors are adept at techniques to bring technology companies or new businesses to their cities and towns. My advice would amplify what they already know – and that is to create a culture that celebrates and rewards small businesses. Communities are successful when they embrace a collaborative network of entrepreneurs and small businesses that is supported by local policies that incentivize (not penalize) small business growth. If a mayor needs a playbook, my advice would be to borrow one from the bookshelves of a local chamber of commerce.
TIM: Create a climate that makes it easy to do business – low tax rates, low regulations, good schools, safe neighborhoods, strong connectivity (wifi and fiber). We partner with 1776 each year to produce a report highlighting what different cities are doing to attract tech companies.
Also - put in place an aggressive advanced infrastructure plan for the future.
In March 2016, we hosted an event with AEM, as part of infrastructure week highlighting the work of Kansas City Mayor Sly James. Both James, and also Columbus, Ohio Mayor Andrew Ginther are two Mayors who have been very creative with their cities infrastructure planning. Both cities we finalists for the DoT Smart Cities grant that, in the end, was awarded to Columbus, Ohio.