President's Column

Sunday, April 10

Giving voice to small business

If you own a small business, you’re not alone.

You’re not alone in number. Small businesses drive the U.S. economy, accounting for half of America’s workforce, almost half of the nation’s GDP, and two-thirds of all new jobs, according to the Small Business Administration.

And you’re not alone when it comes to dealing with the challenges of running a business in Washington state.

The Association of Washington Business, the state’s largest business association, is launching a 15-city tour of Washington this spring and summer specifically to engage with and listen to this important segment of the economy.

The tour starts May 10 in Vancouver and includes stops in Olympia, Tacoma, Pullman, Mount Vernon, Spokane, Colville, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Everett, Bellevue, Grays Harbor and Port Angeles.

As we look ahead to the 2017 state legislative session, we want to hear from small business owners about the unique challenges you face conducting business in Washington state. What are your pressure points? How could lawmakers help you grow your business?

We know that regulation is often cited as a hindrance to business growth. So we want to identify specific regulations that need reform. I saw it first-hand when I visited the communities of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Wash. It is clear to see that Lewiston, Idaho’s growth (population 32,401) far outpaces Clarkston, Wash. (population 7,355).

Small business helped drive the country out of the Great Recession, accounting for more job growth than big businesses. And a recent nationwide survey of small business shows 71 percent expect more revenue growth in 2016 than in 2015.

And yet the same survey shows that small businesses are less confident in the economy than they were a year ago.

Here in Washington state, we are beginning to see reason for concern. Economic growth is slowing and the unemployment rate outside of the Puget Sound region is moving up slightly after a long downward trend.

This is before the fall elections, when voters could decide to increase the minimum wage and adopt a carbon tax that will raise the cost of energy. Both of these have implications for small business owners.

And it’s before the 2017 legislative session when lawmakers will wrestle with the final pieces of the McCleary school funding court decision.

The tour is designed to give small business owners a voice amid this array of issues competing for attention and dollars. But it is also an acknowledgement of the important role small employers play in the state and national economy.

AWB is made up primarily of small business with roughly 6,000 of our members employing 100 or fewer people. Board members include small business owners from every industry in every corner of the state. People like Laura Lawton, who runs a printing business in Spokane. Dave Rankin, who owns a manufacturing business in Yakima. And Brian Forth, a former school teacher who founded a website design company in Tacoma.

They understand the challenges facing their businesses in their communities. We’re eager to hear about the challenges facing your business in your community.

It’s time not only to celebrate small business, but to stand alongside the entrepreneurs who are the backbone of our economy.

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