Main Street Alliance members in Lancaster, Pennsylvania met this Tuesday with Jess King, candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 11th District, to discuss the city’s growing small business economy.
The conversation between King and business leaders, held at the gallery space at Realm and Reason on West King Street, covered a wide range of issues facing small businesses in Lancaster, from affordable health care to support for startups and efforts to increase the diversity of small business owners in the community.
King reiterated her support for small business and highlighted her twenty years of experience working to bolster independent businesses in Lancaster, most recently as Executive Director of ASSETS, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering new small businesses. “Economic development is at the core of my campaign,” King said. “Creating a level playing field for small business doesn’t happen by accident, it comes from enacting policy,” she said.
According to King, this means drawing a contrast between what types of businesses receive public support. “Too often the face of business is Wall Street and not those of the people here today, sole-proprietors, startups and family businesses,” King said. “We need to think creatively about how to invest in Main Street to help businesses rooted in our communities compete with giant retailers and other large corporations,” she said.
Responding to a question from Mike Simmons, Main Street Alliance member and owner of Fluent Business Solutions, about what specific small business policies she supported, King noted the importance of a tax fairness.
“I’m for a progressive tax structure that ensures that those at the top pay their fair share and that tax revenue is invested wisely in our communities to fund education, health care and support for small business,” she said.
King also pointed to the need for ensuring that markets remain competitive. “We need to enforce the antitrust laws on the books since the beginning of last century. These laws are important tools to help small businesses compete with large corporations that use their size as an unfair competitive advantage,” King told business owners.
Much of the conversation centered on health care and the importance of a strong health care system for sustaining and growing a small business economy. Evan Young, owner of Realm and Reason, told King that current threats to affordable health care destabilize the economy and hurt small business.
“Profit-driven health care in the United States is undermining the rest of our market economy. Small business can’t compete for talented employees because large companies can offer benefits we can’t afford to offer,” Young said.
King agreed that instability in health care markets has negatively affected small business. “What we’ve seen as health care has been undermined is that people who want to start small businesses can’t because of the cost of health care.”
King said she supports universal health care but remained open as to how that might be achieved. “Health care is a matter of life and death,” she said. “We need to stabilize the ACA and move to a universal system as soon as possible.”
Regarding diversity in the Lancaster small business community, King said that work remains to be done but that it has remained a priority for her since before her candidacy. “At ASSETS I worked to direct the organization to promote entrepreneurship amongst women and people of color so that the small business community looks more like our community in Lancaster,” she said.
King told those gathered that she believes small business can be a catalyst for addressing challenges communities confront. “I want to promote social enterprises to better use the market for social good,” she said. “We know that the nonprofits can’t solve everything.”
Owners in attendance wanted to know how King would involve small businesses in developing solutions to the challenges they face. Mustafa Nuur, owner of BRIDGE, asked King how she planned to keep the conversation between her and the small business community going.
“I’m dedicated to open communication with the community, including the small business community. I’ve held 51 town halls thus far in the campaign and plan to continue that if elected. I’d love to hear creative ideas from the business community and I’m open to exploring ways to crowdsource ideas,” King said.
Dreya Moore, owner of the Artist Studio and Gallery @ Annex 24, said she hoped King would honor her commitment to continuing the conversation. “It’s important our voices are heard,” Moore said. “The best way for our leaders to help small business in Lancaster is to listen to small business owners.”
The small business roundtable is part of Main Street Alliance’s efforts to provide a forum for greater dialogue between small business leaders, elected officials and candidates for office. MSA invited Representative Lloyd Smucker, incumbent and Republican candidate for Congress in the 11th District, to speak at another roundtable with business owners. Through his staff, Congressman Smucker declined the invitation.