Imagine a vibrant community with jobs that pay a living wage, hospitals that can meet every community member’s health needs, and 21st-century infrastructure like good public transportation, safe drinking water, and ubiquitous broadband Internet.
Sound good? It does to me. This is the kind of place where we all want to live - and the kind of community where small businesses prosper.
Yet to achieve this vision for a strong local and national economy, government needs to pave the way for small businesses to succeed with policies that invest in our communities and help keep local economies strong.
These are the types of local economies created by policies that ensure individuals and businesses pay their fair share in taxes, and that these tax dollars are then spent to build an equitable economy.
National Small Business Week was created in 1963 to recognize the entrepreneurs who drive our economy forward. Small-business owners are often held up as examples of the virtues we prize as a nation: they’re risk-takers, inventive, and most of all, invested in their communities.
Small business owners also have great ideas, including about how to run our economy – if lawmakers would only listen. But lawmakers have been too busy catering to Wall Street to listen to this kind of common sense from Main Street.
So this year’s Small Business Week would be a perfect opportunity for lawmakers to stop and start to listen to the needs of America’s small business owners.
At Main Street Alliance, we do listen: indeed, we just reached out to 1,800 business owners across the country to hear what matters to them, and we’ve published what they told us in a new report. Here’s a little bit of what we heard.
What Main Street Wants
What small business owners across the country tell us they need looks a lot like what most people want and need – and that doesn’t start with the $1.5 trillion giveaway the GOP just gifted to big corporations and the wealthy with their recent tax scam.
It would start with closing the corporate tax loopholes that skew our economy in favor of Wall Street, squeezing small businesses and siphoning dollars from their customer base.
It would also mean investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education and a well-funded safety net so working families have what they need to succeed, and to participate in our economy.
These investments don’t just represent Main Street’s values. They also reflect the real needs of small businesses, which rely on local customers with adequate disposable income.
But right now, we’re looking at a future in which Republican lawmakers will glumly point at government’s loss of revenue from their massive tax giveaway and claim we don’t have enough money to fund essential safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, or even to invest in basic public necessities like schools, water and roads.
Cutting the safety net means a higher cost of living for everyone, even as quality of life decreases, and customers have less disposable income. When customers have no money to spend, small businesses close and our communities suffer.
Main Street small businesses need an approach to economic development that sustains small businesses instead of pouring tax incentives into large corporations.
Start-up support and equitable access to capital are especially important for women and in communities of color, where entrepreneurs who could be generating quality jobs are often redlined out of business.
Main Street businesses also need policies that generate economy-boosting jobs: jobs with good wages and leave and sick-time protections, increasing employee retention and spurring economic activity. But these would require a level of common sense that’s currently in short supply at the federal level.
Small businesses can compete fairly for the best employees when there’s a universal standard for important benefits, which levels the playing field with large corporations. Federal programs for protections like paid leave and sick time also increase economic security for working people, which strengthens consumer demand.
Taken together, common-sense measures like these can have a multiplier effect that benefits small business owners and workers all along Main Street with more economic security, more consumer demand, and a more level playing field.
Small businesses will tell us what it takes to build an equitable economy - one that mends, rather than grows, income inequality in our nation, and ensures a sustainable future for everyone, if we would only listen. But they can’t do it alone.
So in addition to celebrating during Small Business Week this year, let’s start to support these innovative job-creators for the long haul.
Let’s make sure we vote out state and federal legislators who don’t support Main Street’s goals or know what small businesses really need - and vote in ones who understand this doesn’t start with a giant tax cut for big corporations. It starts with strong investment.