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It May Be Just Dirt to Some, but to Small Business Owners, It's the Essence of Our Lives

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I found myself recently in a discussion with a renowned lawyer about the financial and foreclosure crisis that's gripping at the heartstrings of individuals and small business owners across America. His comment to me was, "It's just dirt." My guess is, if you are fortunate enough to be on the outside looking in, that's really all you see in its totality.

But if you're unfortunate enough to be in its throes, it's much more than that. Our hopes, our dreams, and our sense of self worth have all been devastated by this calamity. The personal and financial security we aspired to achieve through our homes and our businesses are in peril of becoming another more fortunate soul's cheap acquisition -- or at the very least, someone else's American dream, at much less toil and stress.

Behind these purchases and investments, lay wasted and broken dreams, retirements in jeopardy and promises of a brighter future growing dimmer by the day. Lying, too, in the rubble is our best opportunity to belong and have a vested interest in our community. Our senses of pride and ownership in our hometowns and neighborhoods have been shaken to the core.

Maybe it was greed that in the hands of a few became the determining factor in the overall demise of many. "Shame on us all." There was a time, not too long ago, when common sense prevailed, a sufficient down payment was required and verifiable income was the rule. Very few, if any, in the mortgage and banking industry wanted to make a bad loan; they were "here" to help us succeed, to live our dreams, to help us build for our family and community, a brighter and better tomorrow. My hat's off to those great men of yesterday, as well as the select few of today, who monitored my finances with tenacity, held me accountable to each dime drawn and treated our monies as if they were their own.

However, banks today have become the lifeblood of yesterday, throwing us to the wind as they try to meet federal guidelines, which by all accounts reminds me of being tightly wrapped in razor wire, then trying to breathe without blood letting. Loans current are now classified; thoughts of expansion are now just whimsical dreams and seasonal cash flow requirements, well, you might as well forget it. "If you can prove to us you don't need it and or have as much as you need, we'll loan it to you, if you don't, I'm sorry, you're just SOL," so say many of our current loan officers.

Sadly enough, our well-respected Canadian neighbors to the north maintained this earlier integrity throughout "our" financial crisis and have weathered the storm relatively unscathed. I'm proud that someone else still gets it. My question is when will we? Allowing now, this knee-jerk reaction from our government and its financial oversight to go from one extreme to another has smothered us, individually, as well as, corporately and stifled our proven ability to survive, let alone thrive. Where is the common sense in all this? Why not just pull out banking regulations from the '80s and reapply them to today?

My next question is, just where do small business owners go when the economy crashes around them and life as we knew it, no longer exists? We have followed our hearts, we have pursued our dreams, we have created jobs in the millions, yet through all our tireless efforts, we have not been able to survive and thrive through this continued economic disaster. No matter how long we have held on, no matter how hard we have tried, for the most of us, it continues to get worse.

Speaking as an owner of small businesses over the last 30 years, I have overcome so many obstacles in my quest to succeed that it's no longer soothing to reflect on the past, it's actually heartbreaking. Working 14 to 16 hour days, we were inspired by the fact that so many people counted on us to succeed that failure was never an option. That all infallible F word, never once was uttered, nor was it ever spoken. We were the heartbeat and soul of America, we supplied good quality products with pride and service; we met the needs of our customers, made a fair profit and contributed to the overall well being of our communities and charities.

But, just look at where we are today. Our relationships are in shambles, our "friends" have disappeared and our former employees somehow blame us for turning their world upside down. We have become the forgotten few who wagered it all for the success of many. Most of us were never fortunate enough to be part of the 1%, we were, however grateful, along with our hard working employees, to be a part of the 99%.

"Just go get a job" forever rings true from those in my circle who are 9 to 5er's; but these well-meaning words fall on deaf ears to me. I've been self-employed most of my life. These words may be easy to say but again, they have never walked in my shoes. "What are your qualifications, do you have a resume, where are your references and just what all can you do?" are just some of the questions that I'm sure will come my way. Legitimate questions, though they may be, from someone half my age, questions that are all too humbling and strike at the core of the reality of what is and or once was.

What if we created an employment website just for humbled, small business owners -- one that provides an in depth and visual interview process that reveals more of what all we've accomplished throughout our business life and less on what could ever be summarized within the confines of a resume? Could we count on employers in our fields of expertise to hire us as seasoned employees and managers, who can do almost anything or would we be relegated to the abyss, just biding our time, where we're far out of sight and eventually out of mind?

We've hired, we've fired, we've trained and nurtured; we were mentors, bankers, pseudo lawyers and doctors; we were auto mechanics and instant taxi drivers; we were marriage counselors, confidants, "almost family" and lifelong friends; we were all these things and more. As an employer, no matter what your field, you have to be all things to all people to insure your small business, along with your employee's, thrive.

It's going to be hard, but impossible, to start from scratch again, especially when the word unsuccessful comes to the forefront, when you think back on what was. Harder still, with the former in mind, will be the ability to dream again for the opportunities to make a difference. It can be done; we've done it before, maybe just not in perilous times like these, where very few, if any, have our back.

It's time we band together as brothers and request from our all-inclusive dysfunctional elected and if I might say so, gainfully employed Congress, a Stimulus II just for small businesses, managed completely by small businessmen. We have the tenacity and the wherewithal to create millions more jobs; just give us the freedom and the flexibility in our financing to do so. Give us back the credit lines and our abilities to invest, to buy and build. Small business made this country great and we can do it again. We can, better than anyone, insure people will stay in their homes by hiring back our talented workforce that has and will continue to be our nation's greatest asset.

We are inside looking out. It's more than dirt to us. It's our livelihoods, as well as our children's futures. To the powers that be, if you will allow us, by God's grace, to thrive, we will rally and re-institute the belief that through hard work and strong ethics, dreams will still come true. All we ask is that you lead from the front or follow in our footsteps, as we venture again into deep waters, far beyond the safety of the shore. We hope and pray, you will continue to use our goods and services, allowing us, to remold, remake and rebuild what once was. If, however, you're not willing or able to do so, please just get out of the way.