from The Great Debate:

Obama fails small businesses

georgecloutier1-- George A. Cloutier, a graduate of Harvard Business School, is the founder and CEO of American Management Services, one of the nation’s largest turnaround and management services firms specializing in small and mid-size companies. The opinions of George Cloutier are his own and do not represent those of the United States Conference of Mayors or Partner America. --

President Obama gets an “F” for his small business program. The SBA has guaranteed a paltry 50,000 loans  to the nation’s 29 million small businesses – that’s .0017. Loan volume is down 36 percent from 2008 and 50 percent from 2007. Obama and his advisers have actually done the unimaginable; they have reduced the flow of aid to small businesses in the face of a deep recession. The program’s bank lenders have left $15 billion on the table due to “regulatory problems.” Even an administration plan to provide lending to 70,000 vehicle dealers has no takers and failed.

Administration “experts” allocated less than 1 percent of the stimulus bill to small business. It’s mind-boggling that Washington ignores the biggest economic sector in the country employing 60 million people, producing 50 percent of GDP, and creating 70 percent of new jobs.

In the past several weeks, I have had the honor to lead events for small businesses in 15 cities (including Philadelphia,  Kansas City, Missouri and Baton Rouge, Louisiana) directly engaging with 2500 small business owners (employers only). Ninety-five percent of these business owners feel the administration's stimulus plan and program has badly mistreated small businesses compared to Wall Street and Detroit.

On October 21st, President Obama announced a second stimulus for small business. His new plan must have been a political speech since it lacked specifics as to how many businesses would be helped, how much money would be allocated and distributed, and when the money would actually start flowing.

Small Talk: Saluting veteran entrepreneurs

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s post looks at the entrepreneurial activity of our veterans.

We start with a program offered by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management called the “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities“, that just announced it is expanding to include a sixth school, the University of Connecticut’s School of Business. The program, which teaches disabled veterans how to become small business owners, was started by Mike Haynie three years ago and has a current enrollment of 125. To date 225 veterans have gone through the program since 2006.

Haynie, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Whitman, told The Post-Standard that he gets 400 applications annually and hates to turn veterans away. “It kills me to have to write a letter to a vet saying, sorry, we can’t help you,” Haynie told the Post-Standard about the program, which has been funded by donations from SU alumni and entrepreneurs. Haynie said the latest expansion will boost enrollment to 150, but he has plans to take the program nationwide. To help facilitate that goal the U.S. government’s Small Business Administration is giving Haynie $450,000 over the next three years.

Small Talk: Jobs data contradictory

Over the last week there have been some wins and losses for small businesses in terms of new job data.

On the win side of the ledger, a new Intuit survey shows 44 percent of small businesses say they plan to hire in the next 12 months. The data is included in a San Francisco Chronicle story profiling a local Web startup – Airbnb.com – that is doing its part, having hired seven people since April, at a time when national unemployment has reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent.

But that optimism is tempered by a USA Today story that said the main reason the unemployment rate jumped in October was due primarily to small businesses cutting staff. It seems that while some small companies are starting to hire again, they are still outnumbered by the ones laying off their workers. The story quotes Moody’s economist Mark Zandi, who explained there is a bias towards big companies in how the Labor Department compiles its payroll survey, which showed October job losses were down nearly 50 percent (190,000) from the average of 357,000 in May, June and July.

Small Talk: Healthcare debate heats up

The healthcare debate is just starting to heat up for small business owners. FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters sister publication, has a nice blog post titled “Healthcare reform & small business: 3 bills explained,” in which they break down Obama’s “Affordable Health Care for American Act” legislation, that was approved by a slim majority of 220-215 by the House over the weekend.

In general the reaction by small business to the Obama legislation has been largely negative, with the most damning attacks coming from small business lobby groups, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Small Business Association. In a Wall Street Journal story, titled “Small Business Crunches Numbers“, NFIB senior VP Susan Eckerly said the bill’s “punitive employer mandates and atrocious new taxes will force small business owners to eliminate jobs and freeze expansion plans at a time when our nation’s economy needs small business to thrive.”

Denver Business Journal reporter Kent Hoover examined the bill from a small business perspective in his article “How small business fares under health-reform bill“. In it Hoover said that while the majority of small businesses oppose the legislation, some support it because “they think the insurance market needs the bill’s reforms, such as barring insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions,” wrote Hoover, adding: “Plus, they think providing a government-run option in new health insurance exchanges would bring needed competition to the insurance market.”

CIT bankruptcy could have domino effect

Small and medium-sized businesses are wild with concern that the bankruptcy filing of CIT Group will cut off the financing they use to pay employees and creditors, according to an attorney who has many apparel and retail businesses among his clients.

“My phone has not stopped ringing,” said Jerry Reisman, a partner at law firm Reisman, Peirez and Reisman in Garden City, New York. Reisman said he represents 21 groups that depend on CIT for factoring and other financing. He also represents an additional four parties that have applied to CIT for new business financing.

“People were astonished. They don’t know what to do,” said Riesman, who took more than 10 calls during Sunday’s baseball World Series game and at least 10 more on Monday morning before 10 am EST.

CIT = more bad news for small business

Just when it looked like President Obama was making some headway with small business, along comes the CIT bankruptcy train to derail everything.

Last Thursday, on Obama’s urging, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new legislation that authorized more than $40 billion for loans backed by the Small Business Administration. It was the relief U.S. small businesses had been hoping for. But just 72 hours later the good news was tempered when CIT Group Inc. – the SBA’s top lender – filed for bankruptcy protection. Now all that new federal money may be loaded onto a train missing its locomotive.

CIT’s failing could leave as many as a million small and medium-sized businesses looking elsewhere for credit in a marketplace where few banks are lending. According to the National Small Business Association, CIT lent $65 million in SBA-backed loans for the first six months of 2009; just 1 percent of all SBA loans issued. That figure was down dramatically over 2008, when CIT comprised 6 percent of the SBA total.

Small business gets its bailout

(Note: The Recovery Act did not directly assign $15.5 billion in funds to the SBA, but $730 million that has so far supported $13.4 billion in SBA-backed loans to small businesses, according to the SBA.)

After having watched Wall Street get a near $1 trillion bailout, America’s reeling small businesses will get their own relief package from Uncle Sam, in the form of the “Small Business Financing and Investment Act” that was passed by the House of Representatives last night by a 389-to-32 majority vote.

The new legislation, which increases the Small Business Administration’s lending budget by $44 billion, was announced on a day when President Obama met with small business owners to discuss his proposals to improve their access to credit in order to boost job creation. The bill will still have to be approved by the Senate and there is no timetable for when the money will get into the hands of small business owners.

Startup faces tough odds in crowded New York rental market

Lee Lin had a full-time job, three rental properties and a problem: he had no time to find tenants to live in them. He tried advertising on free-listing websites like Craigslist, but found it too time consuming, so he created an alternative.

Lin and co-founder Lawrence Zhou, both former programmers, spent nine months and $20,000 in personal savings to build RentHop.com. The website showcases available apartments in New York, predominantly ones that don’t charge renters expensive broker fees.

“Landlords and property managers are very desperate now,” said Lin, who added that when the rental market tanked it forced landlords to absorb broker fees as a way to try to entice renters. These “no-fee” apartment listings have become extremely popular with New Yorkers. “The bottom line is the recession is driving landlords and brokers to work harder to find tenants and that makes room for a new site and a newer business model, such as RentHop to come along.” (Read full article here)

Supply-chain software startup eyes breakthrough

For many large companies, outsourcing is the norm as they seek cost savings at almost every level of production. Jason Tham, a former Kellogg’s employee, saw an opportunity to help reduce the risk of something going wrong at each outsourced step. His solution: to create software that would streamline the supply-chain process and reduce costs even further.

Using research compiled by his father, an engineering professor, and $40,000 in personal capital, Tham built the software and launched Toronto-based Nulogy Corp. in 2002. Tham’s signature PackManager product is an all-inclusive Web-based software that helps the middlemen in the supply chain — called contract packagers — improve their operating efficiency by tracking their inventory, production and labor information in real time. Contract packagers provide the creative packaging and displays that help make a product more attractive to consumers.


Tham’s research shows the Consumer Packaged Goods sector, which includes big brands such as Kellogg’s, Proctor & Gamble and General Mills, outsources close to $20 billion annually to contract packagers. He predicts that number to triple over the next several years.

Mobile gaming firm MegaPhone seeks funding in a recession

MegaPhoneImagine being in the middle of Times Square in downtown New York and using your cell phone to play a video game on a giant screen against the throng gathered there. MegaPhone, a digital advertising company launched in 2006, does just that, providing its clients a unique way of interacting with consumers.

“I think all of us who work in the advertising industry have to ultimately admit to ourselves that people don’t like most advertising,” said co-founder Dan Albritton. “What we’re trying to do is to bring a genuinely fun experience and then you’re getting a little advertising wrapped inside of it.”

Albritton and partner Jury Hahn have created a software platform that allows anyone with a cell phone to call a number and play a video game against thousands of complete strangers on giant digital screens at concerts venues, sporting events, or in urban centers like Times Square.