Minneapolis Small Business Owners Celebrate New Investments in 2017 City Budget

Main Street Alliance of Minnesota joins allied groups in support of city’s move to create a better environment for small businesses.

Small business and community members with Jewish Community Action, Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, and MetroIBA celebrated two amendments proposals in the 2017 City of Minneapolis Budget that would significantly improve communication, outreach, education and streamlining business touch-points for small and micro businesses.

The proposed amendments add three full-time positions within the Minneapolis City Coordinator’s Office and the Community Planning and Economic Department (CPED) to create a “Small Business Team” and direct staff to “align and/or reorganize small business touch points across the enterprise.”

At a morning press conference, small businesses, community leaders, and Council Members discussed both the challenges facing small businesses and the merits of the amendments.  

“Many immigrant business owners in our City don’t speak English fluently or are computer savvy, explained Kayf Ahmed, the owner of Capitol Cafe on Franklin. “Having “navigators’ on the ground to help simplify the process of starting a business will help tremendously in answering questions and nurturing growth, and help ensure entrepreneurs can be successful.”

“We lost thousands of dollars because of miscommunication and a licensing issue that shut our doors for two months,” said Aisha Wadud, owner of Nura Holistic Massage. “The City needs to have better communication with businesses, and you shouldn’t have to be well-connected to get help with red tape and other problems.”12-7-16_Small_Biz_Press_Conference.jpg

KB Brown, the Co-Chair of Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, elaborated, “We want to live and do business in a city where everyone can thrive - for our employees, our customers and our small businesses. These amendments will create a better more equitable environment for small and micro businesses.”

“By building and fostering small business growth, we also support non-traditional business owners and produce local wealth, thereby reinvesting locally…..This office will give our city the tools to truly put action behind the words that Minneapolis is a great place to establish your new business and for your business to grow,” commented Harvey Zuckman, a volunteer with MetroIBA.

“I really see this effort as supporting small businesses, supporting local reinvestment, and ultimately contributing to the sustainability and growth of Minneapolis’ tax base. There’s precedent for positions such as these across the country, and I’m honored to have worked with such a strong group of partners, and the City, to make this possible. Minneapolis will certainly be stronger by supporting a diverse array of businesses and diversity among its small business owners,” said Lyndel Owens, an organizer with Jewish Community Action.

Over the past year, MetroIBA, Main Street Alliance, and Jewish Community Action have advocated the idea of establishing a small business office, and, in this year’s proposed budget, Mayor Betsy Hodges dedicated one full-time position and additional funding to begin to address the needs of small business in the city, and the City Council responded to that need by dedicating two additional positions to that effort.

"Most small business owners are not born into wealth; they work hard, plan, and save to pursue their dreams. These entrepreneurial spirits are the definition of passion and courage, and they invest so heavily in forming the unique spaces and services that make our city great" said Council Member Andrew Johnson. "Today we recommit to encouraging anyone and everyone who dreams of starting their own business, to support them and help them overcome obstacles, and to help all our small businesses grow and succeed."

“We are thrilled that the City Council has voted unanimously to dedicate the resources, both in staffing and direction,  to ensure the needs of small businesses who want to get established and who want to grow in the city have the full resources of Minneapolis supporting them in that endeavor” added Zuckman.

Victory Today for Small Businesses in Washington, DC.

D.C. City Council votes 12-1 to pass Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act 

The DC small business community applauds the City Council for voting 12-1 to pass The Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2015 out of the Committee of the Whole today. The bill, which will provide paid leave for DC workers in a health emergency or for the care of a newborn, will create a city fund through an employer contribution with a 0.62% payroll tax.

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Evan’s Amendment to D.C. Paid Family And Medical Leave Bill Hurts Small Businesses

Main Street Alliance Opposes Council Member Evans' Amendment to Gut Social Insurance Model from Universal Paid Leave Act

The Main Street Alliance strongly opposes Council Member Jack Evans' amendment to the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2016, which would devastate small business owners struggling to compete with their larger competitors.  Rather than relying on a social insurance pool--a model which would enable even the smallest business owners to offer leave for their employees and themselves--Evans' proposal would shift the full responsibility for absorbing the cost of employees’ paid leave on the employer.  

“[Council Member Evans'] proposal for employers to pay directly for their employees’ leave is motivated by a desire to save money for the city’s largest employers and corporations, hanging small and medium size business owners like me out to dry,” said Fatima Nayir, the owner of Mama’s Pizza in Anacostia and a member of the DMV Small Business Alliance, a project of Main Street Alliance.

Oregon Small Business Leaders Launch "All Are Welcome" Training Series

Oregon members attend first in series of meetings focused on becoming stronger allies and providing a welcoming force in their communities. 

Last week, a dozen business owners from the Portland area met for the first in a series of "All Are Welcome" meetings and a post-election "unhappy hour." The election rhetoric and results raised significant concerns for many in the community, including the small business owners that serve them. In convening, the group found reasons to be positive among like-minded leaders who created a space to learn from each other. 

Shaun Sieren of O'Neill's Pub provided the space and refreshments and the group discussed the challenges ahead and their approach. Small business owners throughout Oregon will take part in trainings and conversations to help them move from concerned ally to action, creating welcoming and safe spaces for marginalized groups and people of all nationalities, backgrounds, religions, and abilities. Attendees learned about using appropriate language, educating themselves about other cultures that they may be unfamiliar with, recognizing their privilege and taking on leadership roles their community. The event was partnered with activities and homework for a deeper understanding of the systems of oppression.

Three additional trainings will follow in different regions of the state and Oregon leaders will continue to speak out in support of their customers and community members and in solidarity with victims of racism and oppression. Together, they will send the message loud and clear, #HateHasNoBizHere and All Are Welcome in Oregon.


Main Street Alliance Leader David Borris Joins Tax Policy Experts on Tax Reform Panel

Paying for Progress: A Tax Reform Agenda for the Next President

Today, Main Street Alliance Executive Committee Member David Borris, the owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Chicago, joined an esteemed panel of tax policy experts at an event focusing on President-elect Trump’s tax proposal.  Titled, “Paying for Progress: A Tax Reform Agenda for the Next President,” the event was co-hosted by the Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute. 

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David spoke on a panel focusing on corporate tax reform for Main Street, along with leading experts from the Tax Policy Center, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and the University of Michigan Law School. As a small business owner with decades of experience focusing on the Main Street economy, David uniquely presented the small business perspective--challenging the supply-side narrative dominating the Republicans’ tax plans that tax cuts would benefit small businesses and help drive economic growth.

“Every issue we face on Main Street comes back to consumer demand. That has been the biggest problem with our economic recovery, and tax cuts for the rich do nothing to address our customers ability to spend their earnings with us."

David further critiqued the incoming Trump Administration’s desire to pull back regulations and warned that consumer trust in products, largely ensured by government regulations, was essential for businesses such as his to survive. “Consumer trust in safe products is taken for granted until we find lead in the toys and products we purchase for our children. Or, in my instance, trust that my food meets safety code. We must take a proactive approach to consumer safety and environmental regulations, not a reactive one,” said David.

When asked about the harms that corporate tax avoidance caused communities, David drew a stark contrast between small business investments and corporate extractors. Unlike money earned by local small business owners, which are recirculated, David noted that profits from large corporations are booked offshore, where they do not benefit the local economy and further starve the government of badly needed revenue.

“Working men and women, and small business owners in this country, are paying more than their fair share,” said David. “When focusing on taxes and the budget, we must look to level the playing field, reduce inequality and close the tax loopholes that allow large companies to pay obscenely low taxes while companies like mine pick up the tab.”


A Look Into Trump's Cabinet Raises Concern for Main Street

Mr. Trump has an opportunity to connect to Main Street with a sympathetic cabinet. An opportunity that all early indications suggest will be missed.

Main Street small business owners warned of a Donald Trump presidency and the potential impact the election results could have on their businesses in the months and days leading up to the election. They expressed concern over his attacks on women, immigrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community, and People of Color, as well as his short-sided policies on immigration, taxes, wages, and health care that could damage their bottom line.

Now, in the aftermath of the election, small business owners are facing a fear that may prove larger than Donald Trump himself–his cabinet appointments. Those tasked with shaping policy on behalf of the political outsider could wield more power and take on more responsibility than we’ve seen in previous administrations.

“What we’ve heard so far about the transition and potential cabinet appointees make us very nervous about the future Trump Administration's plans to aggressively go after the gains we have made in the last eight years for small businesses and our communities,” said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance National Director. “In addition, Trump’s hate-fueled rhetoric that we've seen on the campaign trail causes concern over the types of actions he’ll pursue against many in our communities, including immigrants, Muslims, women, and People of Color.”

President Trump plans to surround himself with conservative elites, private-sector CEOs and investors with little experience working with or advocating on behalf of small business owners.

For Department of Homeland Security, Trump is eyeing David Clarke, the conservative Milwaukee Sheriff who has cost his state more than $400,000 for lawsuits filed against him over his handling of federal immigration and customs enforcement issues. He would, almost certainly, echo his new boss’s sentiments about our communities’ immigrant population. Immigrants, in particular, are more than twice as likely to start businesses than the US-born population, have generated over $775 billion and employ one out of every ten American workers. Will Trump’s cabinet appointees think it’s “good business” to deport these economic drivers?

To head our Nation’s Environmental Protection Agency Trump has pegged Myron Ebell, a known denier of climate change, who would likely act to remove regulatory safeguards that protect our environment and the communities in which we do business.

“Common sense environmental regulations provide the regulatory certainty small businesses need to invest, helping our economy and expanding access to living-wage jobs across the country,” said Paul Heroux, a retired painter in Orlando, Florida and a member of the Main Street Alliance National Action Committee. “We can’t trust a climate denier to run the agency tasked with protecting our natural resources. and he’s called for pulling us out of the Paris Agreement, the most significant international agreement to combat climate change to date. As a small business owner, I care about the health of my employees, as well as the community that has helped to support my business. We can’t ensure the health of our communities by tasking someone with a no grasp of the implications or causes of climate change with protecting our environment.”

One of Trump’s top contenders for Secretary of Health and Human Services is Florida Governor Rick Scott. Governor Scott stepped down as CEO of Columbia/HCA in 1997 after a federal agents opened an investigation into the company over alleged Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The company settled two resulting lawsuits in 2000 and 2002 for more than $1.7 billion. If that doesn’t pan out the campaign has identified Dr. Ben Carson and Rich Bagger, a pharmaceutical executive and top campaign fundraiser. None appear equipped or willing to fix or replace “Obamacare,” a cornerstone of the work of the Main Street Alliance and a measure our members have advocated for since 2007.

“Before anybody talks about repealing the Affordable Care Act, they need to fully explain the replacement,” said Kelly Conklin, owner of Foley-Waite Woodworking in New Jersey and Main Street Alliance Executive Committee Member. “The reckless mishandling of the health care sector would have negative impacts on every sector of our economy and will undoubtedly create economic consequences will negatively the very people that elected this Administration. The potential impact on Main Street could be devastating--this is not something that should be trifled with by a cabinet member with a history of obstruction or close ties to the healthcare industry.”

“Over the last 7 years, small businesses like mine have had the opportunity to expand our investment in our community by creating more economy-boosting jobs,” said Jim Houser, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Oregon and Main Street Alliance Executive Committee Member. “We’ve seen the positive impact that this has had in our communities and local economies by increasing the customer base. The ACA has played a critical role by controlling health care premiums, allowing our business to provide quality and affordable healthcare to all of our employees. Turning the department of Health and Human Services over to a pharmaceutical executive or primary opponent to the ACA doesn’t serve the interests of small business owners."

Candidate Trump appeared out of touch and disinterested with the wellbeing of the small business community throughout his year on the campaign trail so it is hard to expect anything different out of a President Trump. In his cabinet appointments, he has an opportunity to connect to Main Street with a sympathetic cabinet. An opportunity that all early indications suggest will be missed.


Atlantic City Business Owner and Casino Contractor Warns of Trump's Business Tactics

Today Main Street Alliance (MSA) released its second political web ad of the cycle, featuring Mike Price of Price Communications in Pleasantville, NJ, an Atlantic City suburb and produced by Dan Preston of Telequest Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey, both members of the Main Street Alliance. 

A poll conducted in September found nearly 60 percent of small business owners siding with Donald Trump. With less than two weeks until Election Day, Price joins fellow small business owner Kelly Conklin, owner of Foley-Waite LLC, a custom cabinet making company, in making the case against a Trump presidency. 

Price, who provided services to Trump-owned properties in the 90's, warns of Trump's way of doing business and points to the devastation to the local economy caused by Mr. Trump's cut-and-run business tactics and disinvestment in the city. 

"The devastation left by Trump, and his cut-and-run business ways are still hurting us here in this area, says Price. "If the way he ran his business in this area is any indication, I would be very concerned about how he would run the country."

ICYMI: Check out Kelly Conklin's video released last week. 

 

 


MSA Speaks Out: Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant in Government Contracting

On Friday, October 28, Main Street Alliance policy staffer Michelle Sternthal participated as a panelist in an event , sponsored by Transparency International,  to discuss the harm that anonymous shell companies cause in federal contracting. The other participants included Eryn Schornick, of Global Witness, Gavin Hayman of Open Contracting Partnership, and Chip Cottrell, representing the B-Team.  Over 60 individuals attended the lively and engaging event. 

An anonymous company is one that does no real business but is often used to hide people's identities and move or launder money.  In the United States, the I.D. needed to set up a corporation is less strict than obtaining a library card. You can set up an anonymous company easily, without having to disclose you own it and use your new company to open a bank account.  It is one of the most effective smokescreens for criminal, illegal, or predatory activities.

When asked why small business owners care about beneficial ownership, Sternthal highlighted the specific impact that these anonymous companies have on small business owners. She argued that anonymously-owned companies, or those whose owners are hidden, fuel corruption, and corruption distorts markets.  Shell companies win contracts on the basis of false promises, rather than legitimate competitive advantage. Sternthal cited one case where a couple created a string of anonymously owned companies and won U.S. government contracts by submitting extremely low bids. They then subcontracted to other businesses for the actual goods and services. The couple received the fees from the government but never paid the subcontractors.  They shut down their anonymous company and set up new ones, frustrating law enforcement investigations and creating new opportunities to repeat the scam.

She also noted one U.S defense contractor, who used his position to secure more than $1.1 million worth of contracts for a Tennessee-based company that he secretly owned, but his wife ran under her maiden name to hide their conflict of interest.  She also described how anonymous companies are used by patent trolls to file lawsuits, costing the companies they target $80 billion per year in lost profits and legal fees.  These lawsuits serve to squash innovation and harm fragile start-ups. Finally, shell companies are used to shift profits to tax havens overseas, avoiding taxes in the U.S. or other countries where they actually transact productive businesses. This puts small business owners, who pay their fair share, at a competitive disadvantage.

The panelists argued for the adoption of Open Contracting Principles and requiring the collection and publication of ultimate ownership information of any company bidding for government business. To truly stop the corruption; however, they all agreed that federal legislation requiring all companies to disclose beneficial ownership information is needed.


MSA and NCLC Warn of NetSpend's Planned Evasion of CFPB Prepaid Rules to Preserve $80 Million in Overdraft Fees

The prepaid card providers efforts to circumvent CFPB rules by targeting small business owners threatens the Main Street economy

The prepaid card provider NetSpend, a division of Total System Services (TSYS), is planning changes to its prepaid card problems to evade new rules by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and avoid losing $80 million in overdraft fee revenues. “The CFPB just adopted rules to limit harmful overdraft fees on prepaid cards, and it is outrageous that NetSpend is already plotting ways to circumvent rules meant to rein in overdraft abuses,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC).

Earlier this month, the CFPB issued final rules protecting prepaid cards. The rules, which go into effect on October 1, 2017, do not prohibit overdraft fees, but prepaid cards would need to comply with ability to repay rules and could not charge fees in the first year that exceed 25% of the credit extended, among other protections.

NetSpend is the only major provider of prepaid cards that has overdraft fees. NetSpend’s cards are primarily sold through payday lenders and check cashers, and NetSpend has even higher overdraft fees on payroll cards it offers through the states of Kansas and Missouri, fast food chains, and retail stores.  Overdraft fees are charged to consumers who opt in to overdraft “protection.” On its quarterly earnings call, as reported by American Banker, NetSpend announced that it expects to lose $80 to $85 million a year in overdraft fees — 10% to 12% of its current revenue — as a result of the new rules. “We now know that NetSpend was taking $80 million a year out of the pockets of the low-income consumers and workers who use prepaid and payroll cards,” Saunders stated. “Consumers turn to prepaid card to protect themselves from overdraft fees, and prepaid cards should be just that: ‘prepaid.’”

NetSpend explained that, to make up its revenue loss, it would launch several new products, including a prepaid card for small businesses and a deposit account that allows customers to write checks. Checking accounts are not covered by the new prepaid card rules, and small business cards are completely outside the protections for prepaid cards or bank account debit cards. NetSpend has said that it would offer overdraft fees on the new accounts that have checks, and it appears likely that they would be available on the small business cards as well.

“Small businesses are hurt by overdraft fees just as consumers are,” said Michelle Sternthal, deputy director of policy and government affairs for Main Street Alliance, which works to provide small businesses a voice on public policy issues. “NetSpend’s scheme exposes the need to expand our consumer protection laws to protect small business owners, which can be as small as a single person,” Sternthal explained. Advocacy groups have warned the CFPB that payday lenders are also planning on evading payday loan rules by claiming the loans are small business loans.

“We call on the CFPB to address overdraft fee abuses on all accounts, and on Congress to enact protections for our nation’s small business owners,” Saunders added.

Related National Consumer Law Center reports:

Since 1969, the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center® (NCLC®) has worked for consumer justice and economic security for low-income and other disadvantaged people, including older adults, in the U.S. through its expertise in policy analysis and advocacy, publications, litigation, expert witness services, and training. www.nclc.org


A Recession Waiting to Happen: New Jersey Member Takes on Donald Trump in New Web Ad

A Main Street Alliance of New Jersey member appeals to undecided voters

Today, Main Street Alliance released its first political web ad, featuring MSA Executive Committee member and small business owner Kelly Conklin.  

“Donald Trump is a recession waiting to happen,” Kelly says. “And on November 8th you have a choice, whether we are going to go ahead on a steady course or whether we are going to plunge the country into one of its darkest eras ever. The master of disaster or a proven entity who can do the job."

Amanda Ballantyne, National Director of MSA, said Trump’s behavior and business practices inspired the group to speak up.

"Donald Trump's rhetoric throughout the election has been toxic and dangerous. His almost glib explanations for his tax avoidance and bad business practices, and shirking small business owners he works with shows a misunderstanding of what it takes to make our economy thrive," said Ballantyne. "For that reason, we can no longer sit on the sidelines. We worked with our members to produce this video expressing the concerns of real small business owners who have earned their success by doing business the right way."

Transcript of full ad:

Kelly Conklin: When my wife and I started this business in 1978 we didn't get a million dollar loan from our parents. We bought a whole bunch of old machinery and worked our tails off. We built our business dealing honestly, and we didn't do it alone. We did it with our employees from all over the world. Immigrants from Europe, South America, Central America, and refugees from Vietnam. And those folks, many of them, have gone on to own their own businesses.

We've survived any number of ups and downs in the economy over the last 38 years. Unlike Donald Trump, we couldn't take a $900 million loss, not just monetarily, but ethically or morally. Given Donald Trump's shady business practices I'd be afraid to do business with him, let alone let him run the country.

His incoherent, inconsistent, and ignorant proposals and his proposal to yet again cut taxes for the wealthiest people in the world will further plunge our economy into uncertainty. Donald Trump is a recession waiting to happen. And on November 8th you have a choice, whether we are going to go ahead on a steady course or whether we are going to plunge the country into one of it's darkest eras ever. The master of disaster or a proven entity who can do the job.

 


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