Startup and small business owners inside the Beltway have a mixed bag of expectations ahead of the first 2012 presidential debate.
The debate takes place Wednesday evening at the University of Denver. The debate will focus on domestic issues, and local small business owners say they'll be paying attention to whether the candidates are specific and detailed about their plans to get the economy moving and to what the candidates say about business rules and regulations.
Primary Need: Encouraging Small Business Development
"As a small business-owner, I want to get it right. I don't want to run afoul of government. So I'd love to know how, from the top, we can effect better, more positive change, urging regulatory reform to say here's how a small business could get started" said Jesse Rauch, owner of District Karaoke.
Rauch said when he first started his business — a team-based competitive karaoke league — he wasn't sure where to start.
Rauch also said he wants start-up businesses to have fewer hurdles to get over.
"(The businesses) are either going to succeed or they're going to fail," he said. "And that's not going to change based on how easy or hard some of those regulatory effects are."
Jonathan Altman, owner of Async.io, which is building an app to help people make decisions about recycling, said the points made by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons earlier this week at a Rosslyn roundtable discussion were paramount: The government needs to focus research-and-development and other tax credits that encourage growth on smaller companies, which are best able to realize exponential growth.
"That is how we're going to grow the economy. The ability for a larger company to have that sort of growth is very difficult. The ability for a small company to do that, and really knock into the unemployment numbers in our country," is much more realistic, he said.
Altman added: "Just simplify all of it. …You can simplify, reduce special cases, make the rules of the road clear and reduce friction. That makes things a lot easier."
Plans Over Platitudes
Will Black, the owner of Oxford Communications, a political communications firm in Old Town Alexandria and a Republican, said he’ll watch the debate but doubts he’ll hear much substance to change his mind.
“I don’t know that I’m looking to hear anything from Barack Obama,” Black said. “He’s written off small-businessmen entirely. I think he doesn’t understand that small-businessmen employ the most people in this country.”
Presidential debates don’t change much in his mind, he said, unless a candidate “says something stupid.” He is looking for more specifics from Mitt Romney.
“Romney needs to get more specific, more specific than he has been, specific on what the government can do to ease the ongoing credit crunch in this country, which is really impacting the ability of small businesses to exist,” Black said. He also wants to see the repeal of the Dodd-Frank legislation governing financial regulations.
Consumer Confidence a Pain Point
The Kaine roundtable was Tuesday at UberOffices, a 3-month-old office-sharing space situated on prime Rosslyn real estate.
"I want to hear a meaningful policy discussion — not just talking points, not just rhetoric," UberOffices co-founder Raymond Rahbar told Patch.
Grant Averett, who owns a tech startup housed in UberOffices, said the three things small businesses need are a great product, good support, and consumers who can afford to buy the products.
"We have control over the first two, but there isn't much we can do about the last. I think this is where the government can help. What can the government do to put more money into the pockets of consumers, or do to make them feel comfortable spending the money they have?" Averett wrote in an email to Patch.
Averett also said he would like to see the candidates debate where any stimulus should be directed and why.
"Everyone says we need businesses to create more jobs. Businesses hire when there is a demand for their products, when hiring someone will help a business ultimately generate more profit than not hiring. ... We need demand, and for that we need consumers with money and the confidence to spend that money."
Mark Allen, a Republican who owns a law practice in Old Town Alexandria, said he tunes in to all the presidential debates.
“I would like to see how they can give certainty to small businessmen,” Allen said. “Small businessmen look for certainty so they can plan, but when they’re uncertain about taxes and the regulatory environment, they tend to sit on the sidelines, and as a result, businesses don’t grow and people don’t get hired.”
Allen, clearly in the Romney camp, said, “I think that President Obama, although he is a nice guy, has a general anti-business agenda, perhaps because he’s never really worked in the business world, and Romney understands, because he spent a career in it.”
Lisa Capobianco, owner of King Street Blues, and Alexandria restaurant, is a registered Republican but said she’s yet to decide who will get her vote.
“What I'd like to see is some type of federal or state program that will provide assistance to small businesses — like a line of credit,” she said in an email. “I know for my store, cash flow gets very tight in January and in August, and it would be helpful to have a line in place that I could pull from and put back when business picks up.”
She said she’s not looking for a loan, which only adds more debt to her bottom line.
Matthew Mulbrandon, who owns a small consulting business, said he was probably most concerned about health care.
"I have a small business with my sister," he said. "We're getting health care together. We're having the same problems everybody has: What if I get sick?"
Patch editors will be watching the Oct. 3 presidential debate at Busboys and Poets in the Village at Shirlington in Arlington, VA. Stop by Oct. 3 from 8 - 11 p.m. for free food and drinks (while supplies last), Patch gear and a chance to meet your local editors.