Group offers small business a more diverse voice

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John Arensmeyer says "overly partisan" lobbying groups "didn't really look pragmatically at what small businesses need."

When John Arensmeyer owned a high-tech company, he thought the organizations that lobbied on behalf of small business did not really represent him or many other business owners.

"They put forth a monolithic view of what small business wants," he said. "I felt they were overly partisan and overly ideological and didn't really look pragmatically at what small businesses need."

In 2005, Arensmeyer founded Small Business Majority, now a network of 8,000 business people nationwide. Like other lobbying groups, it takes positions on issues including taxes and regulation.

But it doesn't follow the pack. The group supported President Obama's overhaul of the health-care system, in stark contrast to the National Federation of Independent Business, which argued against the law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Policymakers need to listen to different voices because there are a variety of small businesses out there," said Arensmeyer, 55, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers Law School.

Now based in California, Arensmeyer started as a commercial and corporate lawyer in New York, where he was born. He served as chief operating officer of SoftAd Group, a developer of multimedia marketing products, then founded ACI Interactive, an e-commerce company. He started Small Business Majority after selling his company.

Here are excerpts from a recent interview.

Question: How is Small Business Majority different from other small-business groups?

Answer: Most small-business owners, as I did when I ran my business, get up in the morning and worry about payroll, worry about putting out a good product, worry about their customers, worry about all the bumps in the road.

I felt that on many issues, the business organizations took very ideological, sort of blanket positions. For instance, all government is bad, or all government regulation is bad. That's not the way most small-business owners think. They welcome government involvement sometimes, recognize a role for government sometimes, and sometimes they think government has gone too far. You really need to look at things on an issue-by-issue basis.

Just to say all taxes are bad or all regulations are bad, I didn't think that was an appropriate way to look at the world. I think it has hindered the ability of those organizations to work constructively with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to forge solutions.

 

  Q: What did you see in the health-care law that made you support it?

A: We know that cost is the biggest consideration for small businesses. And so we were . . . looking for ways that the law could bring down costs, whether it was something specific for small businesses like tax credits, or the health-insurance exchanges, which will enable small businesses to have the same kind of bargaining power as big businesses and offer employees the same level of choice.

Small businesses pay 18 percent more than big businesses for the same coverage. The exchanges should get pretty close to leveling that because you spread the administrative costs and you provide small businesses with the same negotiating power as big businesses. That's cost containment.

All in all, we didn't see any downside. The employer-responsibility provision (that requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance) is so narrow it only affects 4 percent of all businesses, and of the 4 percent, the vast majority are already offering coverage.

Q: What is another issue that Small Business Majority has a different stand on?

A: Clean energy is a huge economic engine for this country, for big and small businesses, and yet the policies that certain groups push seem to be supported only by traditional fossil-fuel companies - not even all big businesses, much less any small businesses. So again, it was an example of groups stating a business position, calling it good for small business, and really only reflecting a narrow segment of the big-business community.

We support the cap-and-trade bill (designed to limit carbon emissions in the atmosphere). It was designed to put us in a position where there would be incentives to build new clean-energy industries, which will have significant benefits for businesses large and small.

Small businesses completely get the fact they're part of the supply chain, that they need to be part of a competitive economy, and that clean energy is the key to that.