Small Business, Big Dreams; Allowing Risk-Takers to Pursue Their Goals Is Key to Economic Renewal

Article excerpt

Byline: Liam E. McGee, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Americans, normally a confident people, are understand- ably anxious not only about the economy but about their own financial well-being. While there is no shortage of economists predicting an imminent recession, too few are talking about America's tremendous underlying strengths and resilience. To be sure, we face economic challenges and need fiscal reform, but I have confidence in the American people and the economy.

The sources of my confidence in America are the small businesses that employ more than half of the nation's private-sector work force and have generated about 75 percent of all new jobs in the past decade. When asked in a recent Gallup Poll how much confidence Americans have in U.S. institutions, organizations and businesses, 64 percent said they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in small businesses. Only the military ranked higher.

As chairman and CEO of the Hartford, a leading provider of insurance and wealth-management services for more than 1 million small businesses, I see a wide variety of entrepreneurs in action - dry cleaners, software companies, print shops, restaurants and more. What strikes me about these business owners is the clarity of their goals, the intensity of their focus on customers and their resolve to perform no matter what obstacles emerge. Their passion is their profession, and they treat their employees and customers like extended family. They are full of dreams and determined to build better lives. It is hard not to be inspired by their self-confidence and their long history of contributing to our country's economic growth.

To be sure, it is a challenging time for many small businesses. A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that 1 in 4 small-business owners report weak sales as their top problem, followed by taxes, regulatory intensity, credit and loan restrictions, and red tape. Given how important small businesses and entrepreneurs are to America's recovery and future prosperity, what can we do to make it easier for them to invest, hire, innovate and grow?

The United States needs to foster an environment that is more hospitable to entrepreneurship and small businesses. Washington should learn more about the special needs of small businesses and not view them simply as big businesses in miniature. Unlike large companies that have access to equity markets, small businesses often rely on personal savings, credit cards or collateral such as their homes to apply for a loan. As a result, their access to credit hinges on creating a more stable housing market, as well as removing regulatory hurdles and compliance burdens that remain for banks that want to make loans to small businesses.

We can also help small businesses by ending the one-size-fits-all approach to regulatory policy. Back in May, when the White House released The Small Business Agenda, one of the provisions called for ensuring flexibility with regulations that disproportionately affect small businesses. …