Labor Day Reflections: A big message from owners of small businesses
Like everyone, I get e-mail from people passing on e-mail they receive from yet other people. Last week I received an e-mail containing a letter purportedly from a Michael Crowley of North Carolina to his employees about the financial condition of his company, its tax burdens, and the implications for its employees.
There are variants of the letter, “Signed, Your boss,” going around since 2008. Snopes, a website that fact-checks web phenomena, lists the letter as “legend.” The letter describes the sacrifices made by the owner to start and maintain his small business and the impact that taxes have on the business’s ability to expand and hire more employees. In an election year, it ends with these questions: “So, when you make the decision to vote, ask yourself, Who understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn’t? Whose policies will endanger your job?”
Snopes writes that the “legend” letter prompted the real Michael Crowley to write a real letter to his “former valued employees,” dated Oct. 5, 2011. In this letter Crowley makes points similar to the legend letter, and more. As a small business owner, an employer, and a taxpayer, Crowley is clearly not happy with the past four years in Washington.
It is almost universally acknowledged that small businesses are the engines of economic growth and employment. Yet, there is a lot of uncertainty in this sector as to whether to stay or fold in the current environment. Not too many small businesses believe they will be able to grow.
Much of the uncertainty has to do with regulatory policies, tax policies (small businesses will be particularly be affected by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts), and increased costs such as those mandated by the Affordable Health Care Act. These factors, and others, affect the bottom line, known as profitability, a bad word these days.
Statements like “You didn’t build that” or “The private sector is doing fine,” coming from the president and his administration, do not inspire entrepreneurial confidence that there will be a fair chance of success commensurate with current sacrifices and expenditures.
Campaigns like to run anecdotal ads highlighting the hardship of one particular person and generalizing it to the public at large. One recent ad of this type is the now-discredited “Romney killed my wife” ad, run by a pro-Obama Super PAC to discredit Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while building support for Obamacare.
I have my own anecdote about the economy that should be an ad. It involves Ronnie Campsey, a photogenic 70-year-old, with a red bandana around his head full of white hair, which he wears in a ponytail. Ronnie owns the New Moon Cafe, a family-operated Tex-Mex restaurant in East Quogue, NY.
East Quogue is between Westhampton and Southampton and has none of the cachet of “The Hamptons.” The New Moon is not a chi-chi restaurant where people gather to celebrity-watch. People go there for good food in a family-friendly atmosphere. It is not unusual to see large groups with children.
Ronnie is your typical small-town businessman. Well, perhaps not so typical. He is a disabled Vietnam vet who received a Silver Star for gallantry, two Bronze Stars with V for valor and heroism, and a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. He is proud to be an American.
Together with his wife, Shana, Ronnie has seven daughters and 12 grandchildren. They run a true mom-and-pop business. On the menu, some of the dishes are attributed to “Old Tex,” aka Ronnie, others to Shana. They live over the cafe, and all their kids have worked in the business.
They have given to their community by offering free Thanksgiving dinners to seniors and helping veterans in need. They have helped train and mold community teenagers in how to work, and have employed young college graduates who could not find jobs in their fields and teachers who could not make ends meet on substitute teachers’ salaries.
The current economy has taken its toll on Ronnie’s 34-year-old business, requiring him to approach his bank, a local one, about the possibility of a loan. He was told he did not qualify. This prompted Ronnie to write an open letter to one of the bank’s officers. Much of the information about Ronnie and his family business in this column is taken from that letter.
There is much wisdom in Ronnie’s letter, wisdom that used to be commonly available but is now in short supply in the halls of government, particularly in Washington, where many elected officials and bureaucrats have no experience in the business world.
The letter contains, unintentionally, a response to some of the White House comments on the private sector: “If small businesses fail, America will never be the same. The small businesses of Main Street America hire and teach the young people of America how to work, employ single mothers, help train people with disabilities to be a part of society….”
The economy and the character of America were built with the entrepreneurial spirit of people like Ronnie Campsey. Their government and financial institutions are failing them. What they represent should be praised and supported, not vilified, penalized, and taxed out of existence.