Recently, I took part in a small business roundtable discussion at Rika Denshi, an international semiconductor manufacturer whose US headquarters is located in Attleboro. The businessmen and women in attendance were a terrific cross-section of the companies that drive the 4th District’s economy. There was Nancy, currently passing her family’s jewelry store on to its seventh generation; David, a dairy owner whose family-owned shop manufactures ice cream for major distributors across New England; and Tim, the head of an emergency-vehicle manufacturer whose company has custom designed life-saving equipment in North Attleboro for more than 30 years.
Small businesses are the heart of our local economies, and I believe that supporting them is a crucial part of our efforts to rebuild this country and put our men and women back to work. At the roundtable we discussed issues ranging from education and healthcare to the tax code and macroeconomic growth. It was a great opportunity to hear directly from them about how government and business can work in partnership towards economic recovery.
Creative leadership has helped these companies survive tough economic times. For example, faced with rising health care costs, David’s dairy initiated a job-swapping arrangement with a local oil company. He employs several drivers during the summer, when his business is busiest, and the oil company employs them in the winter, when they need them most. Together these two companies share their employees’ health care costs and keep them fully employed.
We also discussed the changing nature of jobs in this country and what that means for future generations. Chuck, who owns a metalworking manufacturing shop, stressed that manufacturing is no longer “pressing a button,” but requires highly-skilled technical training. Investing in our education system and promoting the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math from an early age is crucial to ensuring we have the workforce to compete in the 21st-century. High-skilled manufacturing is an essential part of the innovation that will drive our district’s future. We need to align the needs of local businesses with vocational training programs at our public schools, community colleges, and universities.
Many of the people around the table were concerned about the burden of rising health care costs, and their direct impact on the ability of businesses to hire. I fully support the path set forth by the Affordable Care Act, partly because it contains several important cost-containment measures, but I know there’s still work to be done. There are some immediate things we can do, like transitioning to electronic records and realizing savings through bulk purchasing of prescriptions. But we also need to change the incentive structure in our system to focus on the quality of care delivered, rather than the number of procedures prescribed. That means focusing on wellness and preventative medicine rather than care for chronic, preventable conditions which are draining our system.
Additionally, several of the attendees pointed to uncertainty in the broader market as one of their greatest barriers to hiring. Small business owners put everything they have into their companies and bear the entirety of the risk associated with their investment. We need to ensure greater certainty around both our tax code and our entire economic future if we want them to feel like they can start hiring and growing again. That means a simpler, fairer tax code that takes into account what each of us can actually afford – through measures like the Buffet Rule and a real, bipartisan budget plan to get our debt and deficit under control. Such a plan would help entice venture capitalists and other investors to stop sitting on the sidelines and start investing in the economy once again.
We should also ensure the continuation of an active Small Business Administration to help companies with financing and technical assistance, and, on the tax side, allow businesses 100% expensing on their investments in new equipment to spur growth.
Throughout the district, small businesses have also expressed concern about the burden of regulations and examples of regulatory agencies seemingly more interested in playing “gotcha” to find problems rather than work together to reach solutions. We need to simplify and clarify regulations that are necessary and eliminate those that aren’t.
What struck me most at the end of the day was the unique commitment of these small businesses to their communities. They don’t just create jobs and stir the local economy — they are a part of the everyday fabric of our cities and towns, which is something few big corporations can claim. Tim, the emergency vehicle manufacturer told me: “We’re not necessarily dealing with big executives. We’re dealing with this local guy, where all he’s ever wanted is to be a fireman. And now he’s the fire chief. And he’s just the guy next door. It’s a great part of what we do.”
These are the kind of businesses our system needs to reward. Their growth and success is a top priority for me.
As I travel across the 4th District, the issue I hear about most is jobs. There’s no better way to find answers to our economic challenges than talking to businesses large and small that employ people in the district and drive our local economy. Notes from the 4th is where I share with you what I hear, what I learn, and what I believe government can and should be doing to help with employment growth and opportunity.