Obama asks? Esrati Answers: How can the next president better help small business and entrepreneurs thrive?

While I’m lucky to have 20 or so people engaged in a discussion online, being a celebrity presidential candidate with a 100 million dollar plus budget gets a lot of attention. So when Senator Obama asks a question on the business social networking site LinkedIn- he gets a lot of great feedback:

LinkedIn: Answers: How can the next president better help small business and entrepreneurs thrive?

And while I doubt he has anyone willing to read through all 1,496 answers (before it was closed)- I can read enough of them to tell you what’s on small business peoples minds (’cause I am one of them) and offer some of my ideas.

Health Care Costs: Beyond a doubt, small business and big businesses have been hammered by cost increases. When GM says $1,500 of each car goes to health care, you can rest assured, it’s affecting everyone. I can’t raise my prices 40% in a year and keep my customers- unfortunately health insurers can. Instead of trying to sell a program of “National Health Care”- how about “National Work Insurance™” which guarantees taxpayers that they will be healthy enough to go to work and pay taxes.

Tax Simplification: Different filing deadlines, different taxes, different forms, different websites, and that’s just federal. By the time a small business makes it through all these hoops – it may just be able to concentrate on adding something to the economy. There has to be a better system. One site, one place to pay everything- with a schedule of when the next payment is due, automatic notifications and full tracking of payments applied. All communications should be electronic, and through this central portal. We have to also eliminate the patchwork of local income and sales taxes.

Sales Tax: I’m not advocating “Fair Tax”- but, the fact that Internet retailers aren’t collecting State sales taxes is unfair. We need a national fixed sales tax that is doled out to the states by the Fed. State sales tax collection has been dropping, Internet sales have risen. It’s unfair.

Eliminate Corporate Welfare: Small business generates jobs that pay taxes. Big business generates tax breaks. My suggestion of granting business tax breaks only based on “walk to work” employees will help cut the dependence on oil, stop sprawl, create livable/workable communities.

Immigration: Ask any farmer about the need for low cost labor in the SW. They can’t survive without migrant farm workers. Ask Google how many H1B visas they need. Ask any economist about the ability of our country to continue with our low birthrate without immigrants. I support a path to citizenship for all legal immigrants- through service. I believe my plan to end HUBzones as we know them by allowing unlimited H1B visas is a great way to solve two problems at once: investment in the poorest parts of the Country- and the addition of high value talent.

Education: Without a well trained, well educated work force, small business won’t be able to innovate. I’ve been convinced we have to start issuing laptops to all school aged children. See my posts on Dayton Public Schools and the XO laptop.

Technology Infrastructure: We need faster Internet access. The United States is falling behind. Wireless spectrum is another debacle waiting to happen.

After reading a ton of the answers, there are some things terribly missing:

Campaign Finance Reform: Small business can’t exert pressure on government the way big business can through lobbyists, PACs etc. If politicians weren’t forced to pander for campaign loot, we may have a fairer system.

Corporate Responsibility laws: Face it, access to capital markets is a gift. Where else can a CEO get access to billions, without taking any personal risk? At some point, we need to make sure that CEO’s aren’t wildly rewarded for things like “share value” for cutting jobs here and sending them overseas. You want to do that? Fine- do it with your own money. As long as you have access to capital markets- you have to provide shareholder and stakeholder (your employees) with real value. Corporate compensation has gotten wildly out of hand.

Restore Sanity to Wall Street: It’s not a casino. Investing in companies isn’t something you do for a matter of minutes- its supposed to be long term. With so much of our credit market tied to the moves on Wall Street, wild fluctuations in value impact small business much more significantly than big business which can leverage money at lower rates. Too much of our economic policy has become tied to the markets- instead of the other way around. Share value should be only realized with a minimum investment of a year. We now trade more shares in a day than we did in a whole year when I was born (1962): this has changed the way we create wealth in this country from making things- to gambling on things. We need to return to making things.

I don’t have time to read all the answers, and as always, the number of repetitive answers makes forums like these somewhat useless, however, there are some good ideas in the pages- and I’ve added my thoughts as a small business owner.

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