2011 Election: Where Local Candidates Stand On Small Biz

In an attempt to inform Metropreneur readers about where Columbus’s mayoral and city council candidates stand on the issue of small business, we’ve compiled their answers (originally published on our sister website, Columbus Underground) to the following question:

Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

Mayoral Candidates

Michael B. Coleman, Democrat: I have always placed a significant importance on small business because small business creates the jobs that are the lifeblood of our economy and every one of our major private sector employers started off as a small business.  That is why the city has provided funding to support micro financing and working capital loans. We work with community partners (Columbus Chamber, Small Business Development Council, Central Ohio Minority Association, etc) to develop an environment where small businesses can develop and grow within our neighborhoods.

We also have within city government the Equal Business Opportunity Commission to promote the inclusion of minority and female owned small businesses in the city’s purchasing and procurement process. The community’s initiative to retain the young talent in Columbus at our many colleges and universities is important because they will become the skilled workforce that are small businesses need to grow and succeed.

Earl W. Smith, Republican: I agree with your statement regarding small businesses. Sadly, I think our city has forgotten that. My father was a small business owner. My wife was a small business owner. I am a small business owner. I empathize with the challenges small business owners face in Columbus.

I have spoken with many small business owners who are constantly frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy they encounter when attempting to deal with the city. Everything from the simple runaround to serious multi-month delays in getting necessary permits, all help paralyze small business attempts to grow and improve. I believe it is a leadership issue.

The man or woman in charge of the city administration must communicate his/her expectations, and provide a means by which business owners can access the mayor when problem remain unresolved. Bureaucratic red tape is the kiss of death to the small business red tape.

City Council Candidates

Matt Ferris, Republican Small businesses in Columbus are faced with high taxes and burdensome regulations. The most devastating taxes and regulations are handed down from the federal and state governments. I would use my position on City Council to lobby the state to lighten these burdens so that small businesses can become more profitable and hire more employees.

Andrew Ginther, Democrat: Columbus City Council is focused on entrepreneurship and small business growth because these innovators are the backbone of our economy. That’s why we are renewing efforts to identify the challenges facing local companies and expand the tools available to establish and grow small businesses throughout our city.

We have a great foundation to build on because Columbus is already ranked the 7th best city for high-impact companies by the U.S. Small Business Administration and one of the best cities for women-owned businesses by Forbes.

Moving forward, Council will consider new ways to help create conditions where small businesses thrive. We are pulling together a roundtable of small business owners, economic development leaders and local business associations to review potential solutions based on a year of consistent outreach. We’ll work with these leaders to craft innovative solutions that address access to capital, mentorship, quality workforce, health care, and streamlining business with the city.

Hearcel Craig, Democrat: We’re making great strides through public-private partnerships like TechColumbus, [the Economic Community and Development Institute] and [the Community Capital Development Corp.]. Whether it’s microloans and venture capital or mentorship and veteran-owned small business certification, Columbus is a vibrant place to do business. In the next four years, my focus will be continuing and expanding small business development in Columbus. I will work with other councilmembers to help small businesses by improving access to capital, promoting mentorship and investing in quality workforce development.

Robert Bridges, Libertarian: The obvious answer to this is the economy. Everyone has been affected in some way, and we’ve all had to do more with less. That being said, access to capital is a big problem for small businesses. Banks are reluctant to lend, and while a city councilperson can’t change federal laws, we can create some local incentives to encourage investment in our citizens. It is important to recognize that we cannot ask banks to socialize the risks they take as part of their business. In other words, there won’t be a bailout for anyone. So this has to be managed carefully, with thought of the “after” as well as the “before.”

Mark Noble, Libertarian: The biggest complaint I hear from small business owners is “customer service.” The city does a terrible job of being responsive and working with businesses to communicate about issues in a timely and respectful fashion.

We need our downtown to be as welcoming as the suburbs. People need to feel safe, they need to feel that parking and transportation will not be a headache, and they don’t want to have to worry about having a traffic ticket added to the expense of a trip because they misread a sign in the midst of the bustle.

Big box retailers are such stiff competition for downtown businesses because they limit the hassle. If we want to grow our urban core, we need to be focused on helping our businesses to compete against their suburban counterparts.

Zach Klein, DemocratWe’ve done a great job promoting Columbus as a great place to live, work and raise a family. It shows in the enthusiasm of local businesses. Of Central Ohio small businesses surveyed for the Columbus Chamber, 70 percent expect to increase profitability in 2011 and over half plan to hire more employees in 2011. We must both continue and expand on our efforts to support these homegrown small businesses.

That’s why I’ve joined my colleagues to promote a unified agenda for small business growth in Columbus. We’re looking at ways the city can be a catalyst for small business success, creating an inviting atmosphere for innovative small businesses. Key areas of focus will include creating better access to capital, better aligning our mentorship opportunities for new businesses, investing in quality workforce development that meets the needs of current and future employers, and conducting top-to-bottom review of how we do business at the city.

Michelle Mills, DemocratI’m proud of the work we’ve done to support small business growth in Columbus. From our investments with ECDI and CCDC to our ongoing efforts to streamline business at City Hall, we are continually investing in the cornerstone of our economy. We have more work to do. My colleagues and I will be taking a fresh look at the opportunities and obstacles to small business growth in Columbus.

Especially during down economic times, that must include efforts to increase access to capital for new and expanding businesses. We also have to take a look at the quality of life issues that can harm business growth, which is why I’m proud to join with Councilmember Zach Klein on a new anti-graffiti initiative for Columbus.

Daryl Hennessy, Republican: Businesses of all sizes grow and prosper because they identify a market opportunity and deliver a product/service that meets the needs of its customers. Startup businesses are more fragile than existing firms because they are still developing their customer base, perfecting their business model, navigating the regulatory environment, and balancing cash flow needs with new investments in the business.

The best thing we can do to support new businesses and existing small businesses (to give them a chance to survive and ultimately thrive) is to keep the cost of local government low so consumers are in the best position possible to purchase goods/services from these small businesses. Beyond that, we need to expedite the review and approval of business permits, reduce burdensome regulations, encourage the availability of affordable capital, and support incumbent worker training so businesses have the skilled workers they need.

To learn what each candidate has to say about economic development, city services, public transportation and more, follow the link at their name.