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State Of The Union: Small-Business Owners React

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Did Obama's State of the Union address ring true for small-business owners?
Did Obama's State of the Union address ring true for small-business owners?

President Obama may not have spent much time addressing small businesses by name during his State of the Union on Tuesday night, but much of his speech focused on a variety of economic issues ring true for business owners -- from taxes and regulation to global competition and the division between Main Street and Wall Street.

"We should support everyone who's willing to work and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs," Obama said, with the Apple co-founder's widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, looking on. "After all, innovation is what America has always been about. Most new jobs are created in startups and small businesses, so let's pass an agenda that helps them succeed."

That agenda, in summary: "Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas, so put them in a bill and get it on my desk this year."

So did small-business owners respond to Obama's address with a standing ovation, a half-hearted clap or a stony look of disapproval? Do they think Washington is truly, as Obama acknowledged, "broken," or do they have a renewed sense of hope that the government can improve the state of their businesses? We asked four members of the small-business community for their reactions.

Clint Greenleaf
Founder and CEO
Greenleaf Book Group
Member of the HuffPost Small Business Board of Directors

"On the positive side, I was impressed with the relative lack of campaigning. My big frustration is with the dishonest representation that capital gains are 'only taxed at 15 percent.' It is factually incorrect to say this. The profits are taxed once at the corporate level -- usually at 35 percent -- then taxed on a personal basis. But more to the point, setting the stage for class warfare isn't going to help job growth. Punishing the 'rich' causes them to pull back on growth, which hurts the economy. Why should an entrepreneur risk his or her capital and expend energy to be vilified? The upshot is that I was no more inspired to hire after this speech than the last time I was threatened by our president. As a small-business owner, I am concerned that the president does not grasp the plight of Main Street."

Don McNay
Author
"Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money"
HuffPost Small Business Blogger

"The early part of the speech focused on big manufacturers, like the auto industry, which has little to do with economic growth for small businesses. Small business is the future of economic growth, but the talk focused almost exclusively on big business. After 40 minutes, the president gave a few lines about making it easier for small businesses to get financing. He didn't say how that would happen.

"If those of us on Main Street are going to lead an economy recovery, we need financing, incentives and an understanding that Washington is hearing what we have to say. Most of feel that Washington is broken and the speech did not give me any hope that it would be unbroken anytime soon. Just watching the face of Boehner and the other Republicans, and who applauded on the applause lines, I feel certain that gridlock is going to continue."

Gene Marks
Small-business management columnist, author, speaker and business owner
HuffPost Small Business Blogger

"The State of The Union address reminded me of why I voted for Barack Obama -- and why I can't vote for him again. Inspiring. Hopeful. Well communicated. Passionate. A good joke about 'spilt milk.' (I love corny jokes). There were lots of ideas that I like. But there are still too many that I don't. The president reaffirmed his commitment to increase taxes, both on the rich and on corporations. He still repeats too much anti-corporate rhetoric, particularly toward financial services, and not enough details about how he would reduce our deficit and pay for the spending he's proposed. Big ideas are exciting. Big ideas without details make any small-business owner nervous. The question I ask myself is: Will my clients feel better about investing, better about taking business risks, more comfortable spending their cash reserves after seeing this speech? Is this a good environment to do business? Will it be a better business environment if he's reelected? I doubt many small-business owners will feel differently. I still don't."

Tim Berry
Founder and President
Palo Alto Software
HuffPost Small Business Blogger

"On one hand, I'm an Obama advocate disappointed that he doesn't bear down on the tough issues, like leaders of old, and force us to deal with truths we don't like. That's leadership. It was an eloquent and thoughtful speech, but framed in the politics of an election campaign. I'd think more anger would be an appropriate response to some obvious small-business issues like, for example, the contradictions between immigration law and entrepreneurship, and the horribly failed tax code, a broken patent system that breeds trolls, and the link between health costs and insurance systems. I'd like to see the real leader climb out from that politician mask. I have to believe that the man behind the mask would go head on into real issues.

"On the other hand, one of the biggest realities about small business and especially high-tech entrepreneurship is that government policy makes very little difference. What makes a startup successful is ideas and execution, not tax code. People don't sit around talking about the business they'd start if only they had a tax break, or better immigration law, or lower health costs. The politicians talk about that, while the entrepreneurs ramp up, build prototypes, hire the people, and get going -- with no regard to what the government says about it.

"The emphasis on manufacturing worries me. I spent a decade living in Latin America when the vogue was to force local manufacturing by putting up trade barriers, and that just doesn't work. I think the talk of revitalizing manufacturing is politically motivated more than economically feasible, because our economy isn't generating the labor force or economics for assembly line work. I'd be much happier to hear more concern for investing in high technology and especially clean energy, which are parts of the economy that are still quite competitive.

"And there's a lot to be said for a president of the most powerful nation in the world (or is it second or third most powerful now?) being smart and eloquent."

Additional reporting by Alicia Ciccone.

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