Outside of certain brightly colored bridges, pointy office buildings and the music of the Grateful Dead, there are few things more iconically San Francisco than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
One of those things, however, is Anchor Steam beer.
Pelosi and the world-famous San Francisco brewery, whose previous owner Fritz Maytag is widely considered the godfather of America's craft beer revolution, joined forces on Thursday for a panel discussion about the heath of the San Francisco's small businesses with an emphasis on the city's burgeoning manufacturing sector.
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In addition to the former speaker, the event featured representatives from some of San Francisco foremost local businesses, including Ritual Coffee Roasters, Boudin Bakery, and Timbuk2 Bags.
"People who have the courage and creativity to start a small business are the vitality of this country," Pelosi said.
During the discussion, our Representative pushed the congressional Democrats' "Make It In America" agenda, which is designed to promote domestic manufacturing by expanding tax incentives for small businesses, expanding federal loans for small to mid-size manufacturers and closing tax loopholes that encourage outsourcing.
San Francisco has a rich history of manufacturing, especially in the textile industrythink Levi's, Gap and Espritbut over the past few decades, that sector has been decimated and transported almost entirely overseas. Only recently has it begun to make a comeback as part of a concerted effort by local business owners to physically make their products in San Francisco.
Part of that comeback has been facilitated by SF Made, a local non-profit working to promote businesses that are headquartered and do their manufacturing within the city limits. Most of the manufacturing that currently occurrs in the city is relatively small-scale, what one of the panelists called "artisanal."
SF Made founder Katie Sofis asked Pelosi, who used every opportunity to push President Obama's jobs bill, to not forget manufacturers in the rush toward promoting the green tech and clean energy sectors currently in vogue for Washington Democrats. Sofis boasted that job growth for companies participating in SF Made in 2010 was five percent, whereas job growth for San Francisco as a whole during that same period hovered just under four percent.
One issue the panelists repeatedly brought up concerned the importance of deprecation credits the federal government doles out to local businesses. More than half the participants said the success of the continuing success of their operations greatly depending on such loans.
Depreciation credits work like this: If a company buys a capital asset (such as a $100,000 automatic beer-bottling machine), they're not allowed to deduct the full expense of that purchase from their tax bill immediately; instead, they're required to deduct a portion of the purchase each year over the life of the product. If the bottling machine is expected to last ten years, the company would deduct $10,000 a year. The credits allow businesses to either speed up the deduction schedule or take all of it the year the product was purchased, and according to the panelists, they've been successful.
Even so, those credits aren’t the magic bullet for growing every small business in the city. "We're not making so much money that those tax credits are a huge incentive," said Ritual Coffee founder Eileen Hassi.
While most agreed the federal government should do whatever it can to aid small businesses, members of the local business community are divided as to what exactly that entails. A company like Ritual is inherently more labor-intensive than a company like Timbuk2, which relies more on manufacturing, so their needs will inevitably differ.
The Minority Leader listened to everyone's concerns and said with smile, "I may have to ask you to come back to Washington and say all of this in another setting."
While the event ostensibly had a local focus, conversation inevitably drifted to Washington's never-ending legislative morass and Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
"We're just asking to raise the tax rate on people who make over $1 million a year. We're going to raise taxes on the first dollar they make over $1 million. That's this many people," she said plucking a single strand of sandy blonde hair out of her head to emphasize her point, "but it can make a huge difference."
"Republicans want to protect the assets of the wealthy more than they want to protect the American people," she added.
Sadly, it did not appear as if the Minority Leader sampled any of the beer. Granted, it was 11am.
Take a look at images from Pelosi's appearance below: