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.

 


Main Street Business Owners: Trump Got It All Wrong

When it comes to driving local economic growth and putting small business owners in the best position to succeed, Donald Trump missed the mark. 

On taxes, Mr. Trump couldn't be further from the views of Main Street small businesses. He brags of his massive and phenomenal wealth while skipping out on his taxes for decades due to manipulation of the tax code following nearly $1 billion in losses. 

“Trump has exploited the tax system for decades and threatens the safety nets in place to help struggling business and families. Taxes are a cost of doing business and are essential in funding the infrastructure my business depends on”, said Doron Petersan, the owner of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats and Fare Well Diner Bakery Bar, in D.C. “Skipping out on your taxes year after year doesn’t make you qualified to rewrite our tax code, it qualifies you for an extended visit from the I.R.S.”

"Trump's recently released tax plan would only worsen the unfair U.S. tax system by disproportionately benefitting the highest-income earners and putting a strain on the rest of us. We need to move away from a system that has been manipulated by greed and self-indulgence to create a tax code that levels the playing field, said Matt Birong, the owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes, Vermont.

On immigration, Mr. Trump continued to lob insults calling many undocumented immigrants "bad hombres" and doubling down on the need to use tax dollars (to which he does not contribute) to build a wall to keep our customers, future business owners, and innovators out. 

“As an immigrant and the owner of an architecture firm, the walls I build are on homes, designed to keep families safe. We don't build walls designed to keep good people out. It's not how our country or our economy works. Trump's idea of an immigration policy would be a disaster for our country," said Francisco Garcia, the owner of The Building Workshop in San Diego. 

“This country depends on a strong immigrant community. Any ‘business’ person who uses these hard-working employees to make millions, but turns on them for political gain, is no leader to fit to hold our nation's highest office," said Alma Rodriguez, the owner of Queen Bee's Art and Cultural Center.

On access to capital, Mr. Trump shrugged off Mrs. Clinton's claims that he borrowed $14 million from his father to start his business. He corrected her, stating it was ONLY $1 million. For small business owners struggling to get the capital they need to start a new business or keep their business afloat, $1 million is not a sum to be shrugged off. 

"I lost my father at a young age, so getting a loan to start my business from him wasn't an option. I built my business from the ground up, the right way. By honoring my debts, investing in the community that supports me, and treating people with dignity and respect," said Ethel Taylor, the owner of Doggie Washerette in D.C. "Donald Trump could learn a thing or two from business owners like me."

On the issues facing small business owners, the businesses responsible for 2/3 of our nation's job growth, Mr. Trump struck out. Perhaps he should have formed his Small Business Advisory Council before this week.


Wait, the Trump Campaign Didn't Have Small Business Advisers Until This Week?

Just three weeks before the election, the Trump Campaign forms a Small Business Advisory Council. 

On Sunday, a mere three weeks ahead of the November election, the Trump Campaign announced its formation of a small business advisory council tasked with providing advice on the issues and solutions most important to small businesses.

“I think it’s great that Mr. Trump is interested in hearing from small business owners, but it's unfortunate that he is reaching out to us now, just weeks before the election,” said ReShonda Young, the owner of Popcorn Heaven in Waterloo, Iowa and Main Street Alliance Executive Committee Member. “We would have loved to help ensure his tax policy wasn’t just another giveaway to large corporations and the rich, and we would have put our foot down on his immigration stance. Instead, we have more of the same on taxes and an immigration policy that tears apart our communities and threatens our businesses.”

Mr. Trump has boasted his wealth and business acumen since entering the race last year, but he has lacked coherence on policy aimed to help small businesses. His small business tax cut was on the table, then off the table, and his immigration policy lacks even the most basic understanding of what fuels and drives our local economies.

“To the Trump Campaign, this council’s formation was probably better late than never, but to me, to real small business owners on Main Street, it shows the utter disregard he has had for us throughout his campaign and career,” said Paul Heroux, a retired painter in Orlando, Florida and Main Street Alliance National Action Committee Member. “Donald Trump made a business of screwing over small business owners, like The Paint Shop, in Doral, Florida”

Economy-boosting investments have largely been missing from Donald Trump’s policy platform, a shining example of why he should have put an advisory council together months ago. The tax breaks and regulatory lifts that motivate large corporations don’t work for Main Street. A 2015 report from Main Street Alliance, “Voices of Main Street” surveyed over 1100 business owners on the issues impacting their businesses. More than half of respondents noted customer acquisition as their most significant concern, more than double those concerned with taxes and four times the respondents that answered ‘regulations.’

“The Trump Campaign’s formation of a small business advisory council at this point in his campaign is hardly a gesture of good faith. The reality is that Mr. Trump thinks he is a business genius and that he can speak for us,” said Chris Petersen, independent family farmer and Main Street Alliance of Iowa member. “What he hasn’t realized is that the way we do business on Main Street couldn’t be further from his cut-and-run business tactics. He has a lot to learn over the next three weeks.”

Despite his big business experience, Donald Trump is out of touch with the needs of Main Street. If he prioritized small business success, he would have built our issues into his platform months ago. Instead, he offers the empty gesture of forming a small business council weeks before the election.

“I’m honestly shocked that the Trump Campaign just thought of forming a small business council, his opponent has had one for months,” said Megan Baker, co-owner of Orange Blossom Jamboree in Brooksville, Florida, and Main Street Alliance of Florida member. “Forming the council now seems more like an empty gesture than a real focus on the issues important to us. His policies are already written. His tax policy skews towards large corporations and the rich, his immigration policy is a mass deportation of members of my customer base and his position on raising the federal minimum wage won’t put more money in consumer’s pockets.”


Donald Trump Responds to North Carolina GOP Firebombing with Vitriol and Divisiveness

Main Street leaders campaign to stem the tide of hateful rhetoric consuming the national political dialogue and threatening local economies

Donald Trump chose to drive a wedge between us, following a violent act of vandalism at the Orange County North Carolina GOP Headquarters. With the identity of the perpetrators still unknown and their motives unclear, Mr. Trump took to Twitter calling them “animals” who “represented Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.”

Main Street Alliance believes the actions taken in North Carolina are un-American, and so too is the dehumanizing language and swift form of social media justice deployed by Donald Trump in response. In choosing to make such a statement, Donald Trump doubled down on the vitriol and fear mongering that helped secure him the nomination, while only adding to racial and political tensions.

Name-calling and publicly casting judgment on entire groups, based upon the actions of a few, have become a cornerstone of the Trump campaign. It’s a problem Main Street Alliance leaders have taken head on during the 2016 election with the #HateHasNoBizHere campaign.

The campaign encourages small business owners to make clear statements of principles to stem violence we saw this weekend in North Carolina. Business leaders in Minneapolis started the campaign from their restaurant, Common Roots Cafe, which caters to a diverse clientele, including the nation’s largest population of Somali-Americans.

Soon, the campaign stretched across the country, with business owners from Seattle to Burlington, Vermont, taking lead. The campaign aims to shed a light on the swell of hate and fear permeating our national dialogue as dangerous and bad for businesses and our local economies.

“Just being able to say, you know, hate has no business here is a good reminder to people that they should second guess this rhetoric when they hear it. They should say ‘wait a minute, this is just not correct.’ It’s all too easy to get sucked into the angry politics and not think about what it really means,” said Diana McLeod, the owner of Tradewinds in Burlington, Vermont. 

When a simple statement of condemnation and gratitude towards law enforcement conducting the investigation would have sufficed, Donald Trump resorted to insults and blame. Appearing incapable of exercising restraint, Mr. Trump once again chose to fan the flames of hatred. It’s that kind of hatred that Main Street small business owners should and will challenge at every turn, for the good of our businesses and our country.

"America must be a place where people from all nations, races and creeds seeking freedom and opportunity feel welcome and can build safe, prosperous lives for themselves and their families,” said Amanda Ballantyne, National Director of Main Street Alliance.  “When politicians and pundits target people in our communities for political gain, when they fan the flames of hatred and fear, it must be met head-on with clear statements of principle from local business owners as leaders in their communities.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s hateful and misguided reaction, North Carolina Democrats circulated a donation page via GoFundMe that has already raised over $13,000 from more than 500 donors, with the goal of getting the office back up and running. That is the spirit of community and camaraderie that makes America great.

“As a member of the Main Street Alliance Executive Committee, I can tell you that members are deeply disturbed by the rising tide of hateful rhetoric and violence aimed at members of our community, at refugees fleeing violence, at immigrants and people of color,” said David Borris, Owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering, Illinois. “We want to make it very clear that we do not share in this hateful rhetoric, and our businesses thrive from diverse populations."


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