North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton calls small businesses the backbone of the economy, which is why on Friday he’ll be in Rockingham to speak with small business owners about their concerns and figure out ways the state can help.
In April, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and Dalton started hosting roundtable discussions about small business issues in communities around the state.
Dalton calls it his “listening tour.”
So far Dalton and the NFIB have visited eight different communities in North Carolina to hear the concerns of small business owners.
“We all realize the economy is changing dramatically and small business is the backbone of our economy and is hurting also,” Dalton said. “It’s very important we go around the state and listen to concerns and see if we can help them be successful in the future and thrive in that economy.”
NFIB has joined Dalton in this initiative and state Director Gregg Thompson said its a great opportunity for small business owners, chamber members and the public to participate in the discussion.
“It’s an opportunity to sit down with small business owners in areas all across the state and listen to what small business owners are facing on a day-to-day basis,” Thompson said. “Whether it’s problems with financial lending or insurance, we ask that the participants of the roundtable keep it to state-specific issues because, of course, the lieutenant governor has no jurisdiction on federal issues. It’s an opportunity for him to learn, one-on-one, from those people who are struggling in the small business arena about the issues they face.”
“It’s very informal,” Thompson said of the roundtable. “It’s dialogue between small business owners and the lieutenant governor to allow him to learn and for them to get feedback from someone with the executive branch on the issues they’re facing.”
Thompson said the previous roundtable talks have gone over very well with attendance raging anywhere from 12-15 people to 70-80 people.
“I think they appreciate we’re coming in and taking the time to talk to them,” Dalton said about the listening tour. “We try and get enough people at the table to get a cross section of what the needs are and they’ve been appreciative and we try and follow-up with any specific questions they have and we try and come forward with something that can help.”
“We really like the smaller groups because people tend to open up a little more and express more freely what their needs are,” Thompson said. “Small business in North Carolina makes up 90 percent of jobs in the state, and 67 percent of all newly-created jobs are created by small business, and small business is what is sustaining the North Carolina economy during this recession.”
Thompson said this roundtable also gives small business owners information on where they can seek help for their various needs.
He said during previous roundtable discussions some of the topics that have come up are health insurance and shopping for the best rate, regulations on small businesses like environmental permitting and building codes that can either slow down growth or keep a business from moving forward and hiring more employees.
“We’ve heard a lot about tax increases and how they don’t want to be taxed anymore,” Thompson said. “They feel like they’re paying enough and that it hurts their business to pay more. We’ve heard about issues of increasing minimum wage, even though that is federal, there is a bill in the state legislature that would increase the state wage higher than the federal and small business owners can’t sustain any additional increase in minimum wage over and above what the federal government has implemented.”
He said lending and credit were two other major issues that the state may be able to help with.
“It’s been very successful,” Thompson said of the listening tour. “It’s very helpful to the lieutenant governor. Small business owners have welcomed the opportunity to have someone to talk to in an informal setting and it’s been helpful to us, as the largest small business advocate in the state, to also hear what our members and small business communities are dealing with.”
One thing Thompson said has come up repeatedly is the issue of sales tax on small business services. He said there are about 30 services that are required to charge sales tax and a state committee is working on increasing that and small business owners are not happy.
“What we’re hearing is that it’s a dead issue for 2010 but it may not be because I understand the governor is looking for a billion dollars to balance this year’s budget, but the sales tax on services is a big issue for small businesses would speak up and saw we have to pass that onto the consumer or have to cutback on hiring someone or cutback on hours,” Thompson said. “That was a big issue, and still is. We’ll hear about it all through this year and hear action on it in 2011.”
Thompson said the roundtable talks usually run only about an hour to an hour and a half depending on how many questions people have.
Thompson said the lieutenant governor is trying to get to as many communities as possible within the next year, particularly rural areas which have really taken a hit during this recession.
“Most of the venues we’ve been to have been in rural areas,” Dalton said. “But small businesses have issues across the board in urban and rural areas, but looking at the unemployment rates, rural areas struggle a little bit more, so it’s particularly important we go in there and see what we can do to assist small businesses in those areas.”
Dalton said the Small Business Assistance Fund (SBAF) he got through the legislature was a result of similar roundtable discussions. The SBAF provided small, short-term loans for businesses to help weather the rough economy and was funded in part by the Golden Leaf Foundation.
“We want to continue the dialogue with small business because they’re the backbone of the economy now and in the future and we should always tend to their needs,” Dalton said. “We will continue to do these tours in the months to come, but we want to find solutions for small businesses like the assistance fund. Health insurance generally comes and we need to look if there’s something at the state level we can do to help stabilize those costs.”
Dalton said he was looking forward to his visit to Richmond County.
“I encourage folks to attend because we understand this recession is one of a national nature but that we’re all trying to get through a tough time and see better days,” Dalton said.
“It’s a great opportunity for small business owners to speak in a small group setting to someone who can help make a difference in the issues they’re dealing with,” Thompson said.
The roundtable is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29 at the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, located at 101 W. Broad Ave., Rockingham.
Staff writer Eren Tataragasi can be reached at (910)997-3111 ext. 19 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.