Fairfax business owner participates in White House panels
A Fairfax hobby-shop owner was one of 14 entrepreneurs who visited the White House Sept. 12-13 to share their candid take on recent laws affecting small businesses.
Hobby Works President Mike Brey, who has stores in Maryland and Virginia, joined other members of the Small Business Majority for two days of meetings with policymakers and legislators. Brey and his fellow business owners provided practical feedback about the administration’s flurry of small business initiatives, health care reform and stimulus programs over the last three years.
And they pulled no punches, even when speaking with high-level folks in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room. Their audience included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Marie Johns, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; and Alan Krueger, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
“We spent a lot of time talking about which things really, really worked for us and which things didn’t work so much,” Brey said.
They praised the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, which Brey describes as “really great for small businesses,” particularly the act’s generosity with loss carry-backs and fee waivers for the SBA Express program.
“It made some structural changes to the way the SBA made loans; it made some tax treatment changes to the way you dealt with losses and capital expenditures that were very favorable to small businesses that might have been struggling at that time,” he said.
But Brey and other Majority members also vented about the confusing and time-consuming processes required to access certain benefits, such as the Affordable Care Act’s small business tax credit.
“There’s some frustration among small business owners about how the tax credit itself is difficult to collect,” he said. “One of the people there said it was, like, six hours to go through all of the steps. Another pointed out that on the IRS website, the instructions aren’t even on the same page as the actual form itself.”
Brey, who has lobbied for small businesses for much of his 18 years as an entrepreneur, said he believes this is the first administration that has invited feedback from actual small business owners.
“Politicians, whenever they want to appeal to the general public, like to throw around the words ‘small business,’ I think because many people in America aspire to someday have their own business,” he said. “The real benefit of getting in front of actual policymakers is you can tell them, ‘Hey, this thing that you did really, really worked, and here’s how I took advantage of it.’ At the same time, you can say, ‘Hey, this thing that you did really did work for me, but holy hell, was it hard for me to get!’
The Small Business Majority arranged the trip for the 14 members, who are all on the organization’s Business Network Council, which focuses on policy discussions.