Advocacy

In Support of Small Business

You have a business to run, so the team at SBAM constantly monitors issues affecting small business so you don’t have to.  SBAM also helps to give you and other small business owners a voice in the democratic process by connecting members with influential policymakers.

You can help protect your small business and help bolster Michigan’s entrepreneurs by getting involved today.

SBAM has an easy way for you to contact your elected officials. Take action now and voice your support for small business by:

  • Contacting your legislators
  • Examining voting records   
  • Locating your elected officials
  • Tracking key issues
  • Learning about elections

Policy Agenda

SBAM recently released its Small Business Policy Agenda. Download your copy here.

 

Latest Legislative News

EEOC Bars Certain Job Requirements by Employers

From SBAM's national affiliate, NSBA:

On Nov. 17, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Office of Legal Counsel issued an “informal discussion letter” stating that an employer requiring high school diplomas would be unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They cited such a requirement as having a disparate impact on the learning disabled unless the employer can demonstrate that the diploma requirement is job related and consistent with business necessity.
 
Most recently, in January 2012, the EEOC adopted as policy--quite under the radar--that a high school diploma requirement would constitute discrimination on the basis of national origin under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

NSBA opposes this move as it will lead to needless, expensive and damaging litigation, have an adverse impact on small businesses and employment levels as well as discourage young people from pursing educational attainment.

There is no credible evidence that small businesses discriminate against those without high school diplomas when the skills that high school graduates possess are not relevant to the job. Doing so would deprive an employer of many good potential hires and raise their costs. Businesses should be left free to decide what level of educational achievement is necessary for their employees to discharge their job requirements.

Most jobs in a modern economy require the ability to do arithmetic, read, understand instructions and solve problems. A high school diploma is a reasonable indicator that a person possesses these qualities. Usually, a person who has earned a high school diploma will perform these tasks better than a person without one. A high school diploma is also an indicator of the person’s ability to stay on task, complete projects and accept instructions.

It will undoubtedly spawn an army of new consultants helping businesses figure out who has these skills without requiring a high school diploma and force them to spend time and money demonstrating to the satisfaction of the EEOC and some prospective jury that the job actually did require these skills. Those businesses that don’t spend the time and money to hire consultants, consult their attorneys and put a nice “diploma requirement compliance notebook” on their shelf documenting the math, reading and problem solving requirements of every job will be putting themselves at risk of losing a lawsuit.

If the logic of the EEOC position is extended to college degrees, then in many cases that requirement will disappear as well. This will discourage people from finishing high school or college since it will become widely known that employers cannot generally require diplomas. Thus, the policy can be counted on to discourage education. Educational attainment is not an inherent or immutable characteristic. It is something that someone works at and achieves to learn and to earn a credential. It is something we want to encourage, not discourage. It is something we should wish to reward.
 
 

Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund public hearing on Feb. 8 in Lansing

The Michigan Strategic Fund and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) announced a public hearing to accept questions and comments regarding the new Pure Michigan Venture Match (MVM) Fund. The hearing is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 8 at the MEDC, 300 N. Washington Sq., Lansing. 

“Innovative early-stage companies often need venture capital to help finance critical stages of their development and commercialization,” said MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney. “We are aiming to bridge this capital gap and help entrepreneurs to develop promising technologies to grow into new innovation companies, while we diversify Michigan’s economy and create new wealth in our state.” 

The Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund will match early stage investments from eligible venture funds in Michigan-based technology businesses. The minimum venture investment that will be considered is $700,000 and the maximum is no more than $3,000,000. The match from the MSF will be no less than $350,000 and no more than $500,000, with similar investment terms as the venture investment. 

Companies will only be allowed to apply for MSF funding once they have secured a qualified venture investment, making this a market driven application process. There will be a peer review of the company business plan and investors as required under the 21st Century Jobs Fund legislation. 

The program is intended to attract venture funds, within and outside of Michigan, to consider investments in early stage and pre-revenue Michigan-based technology companies and to mitigate some risk for venture fund investments at this stage by participating with MSF funds in early rounds. 

After consideration of the comments and information received at the public hearing, the final MVM Fund program guidelines will be presented to the MSF Board for approval and implementation. The program is anticipated to launch on March 1, 2012 if approved by the MSF board at the February board meeting.
Relevant documents regarding the Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund can be downloaded here.

What do you think of the Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund? Leave a comment below.

New survey report: small business confidence hits highest level in three years

SBAM’s national affiliate, the National Small Business Association (NSBA), today released its 2011 Year-End Economic Report, which shows a decidedly more positive outlook for America’s small businesses, with important gains in several key indicators. Most notably, more small-business owners report being confident about the future of their businesses than at any time in the last three years, up from 64 percent just six months ago to 75 percent today. 

“Although this report is by far the most positive we’ve seen in quite some time, it is imperative policymakers not mistake these gains for a task completed,” stated NSBA Chair Chris Holman, CEO of Michigan Business Network.com and President of The Greater Lansing Business Monthly. “There are countless issues that continue to hinder small businesses.”

While the majority of small-business owners (66 percent) continue to anticipate a flat economy in the coming year, the number expecting a recession was more than cut in half at 14 percent, down from 30 percent six months ago. Additionally, the number of small businesses expecting economic expansion in the coming year nearly doubled from 12 percent to 20 percent in six months.
Revenue growth was at its highest point in more than three years with 46 percent of small businesses reporting increases—up from 39 percent six months ago. There was a commensurate drop in those reporting decreases in revenue from 37 percent to 31 percent. And while job growth didn’t experience the same kind of growth—it remained unchanged at just 22 percent reporting increases—the number of small businesses (23 percent) reporting employment decreases was the lowest it’s been in three years.
When asked which issues are most important for policymakers to address, small businesses overwhelmingly ranked reducing the national deficit number one—up to 44 percent from 34 percent six months ago—followed by reducing tax and regulatory burdens and reigning in the costs of health care. Along those lines, there was a marked increase among small-business owners who cited regulatory burdens as a major challenge for their business—up from 31 percent six months ago to 40 percent today.
Please click here to access the 2011 Year-End Economic Report.


Attention employers - UI Tax reform underway

On Dec. 19, 2011, the State Legislature approved a comprehensive solution to Michigan’s defunct Unemployment Trust Fund. Prior to the reform action, the system, which is wholly financed through taxes on employers, was indebted to the federal government by nearly $3.4 billion and was structurally unstable. Without legislative intervention Michigan employers would have been subject to substantial and steadily increasing federal penalties to repay the debt and interest, without building solvency in the Trust Fund.

Specifically, the reform package issues bonds to repay the $3.4 billion debt. Employers are legally obligated to repay the balance. By issuing bonds and assessing employers for repayment, business owners will experience a significant savings relative to the heighted federal interest and penalties due in 2012. 

To insure that the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund remains stable and solvent going forward, the business community and the legislature agreed that the taxable wage would have to be raised from $9,000 to $9,500. However, the taxable wage base will automatically decrease to $9,000 once the Trust Fund returns to a balance of $2.5 billion. 

Fiscal reforms were not enough, however, to guarantee future solvency. Changes tightening qualifying standards, imposing more severe penalties for defrauding the system and loosening rules for seasonal employers will help make the reforms a complete solution. After years of decline, Michigan’s UI system is again stable.

Beginning this week, business owners will receive a detailed explanation of these reforms directly from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Members who have questions are encouraged to utilize the Department’s new Office of Employer Ombudsman through its toll-free phone number at 1-855-484-2636 (4-UIAOEO) or via e-mail at OEO@michigan.gov. The Office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. SBAM members may also contact David Jessup, SBAM’s Director of Government Relations, via email at dave.jessup@sbam.org

Questions about UI reform? You can also leave a comment below!

Infrastructure funding debate heats up

(By Dave Jessup, director of government relations)

Jan. 30, 2012: A week after Gov. Snyder called on the legislature to find $1.4 billion in funding to help maintain the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, a bipartisan, bicameral package has been introduced. To raise the necessary funds, the tax on gasoline and registration fees for vehicle would both be increased.

The package has four major components, with two items in particular expected to attract a fair amount of controversy: 1) A proposed increase in vehicle registration fees, estimated to generate about half billion dollars, by increasing fees by percentages based on the value of vehicles rather than a flat dollar amount, and 2) the package seeks to eliminate the gas tax and replace it with a sales tax at the wholesale level.

What would amount to a nine cent per gallon across the board increase at the pump would generate an estimated $541 million.

Also called for is the creation of a commercial corridor fund, which is designed to ensure that more dollars flow directly to road and bridge construction and maintenance. Also in line with Gov. Snyder’s recommendation, legislation to authorize a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan (including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties) is also a major component of the overall package. The authority would be empowered to develop a high-speed system of mass transit along Woodward and Gratiot, connecting Troy with Mount Clemens and Ann Arbor with Detroit.

(photo by MSVG

Payroll Tax Talks Begin

Story Courtesy of NSBA

The twenty lawmakers assigned to negotiate a long-term extension of the payroll-tax holiday met for the first time on Tuesday, and while several are hopeful they can reach a deal quickly, the Feb. 28 expiration deadline is rapidly approaching.  

Along with their focus on the payroll tax, lawmakers also will work on extending federal unemployment benefits and higher reimbursement rates for doctors who see Medicare patients. Although lawmakers expressed a desire to extend a year-long payroll tax break, familiar conflicts on the issues have hardly faded over the long winter break, including the scores of policy details to resolve as well as a budget offset package of at least $150 billion.

House Republicans recommend paying for the package by extending a federal employee pay freeze, increasing Medicare premiums for upper income beneficiaries, and cutting funds from the new health care law. Further, Republicans resumed their effort to push President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that TransCanada Corp. wants to build from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats prefer to pay for the package by imposing a surtax on those with incomes over $1 million—an idea that met opposition last year from many Republicans. However, they have indicated that they are willing to consider other offsets to pay for the package and also floated the idea of using savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to offset part of the programs' cost. However, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) said that idea was "not on my top-10 list."

In late December, Congress passed a two-month extension of the payroll-tax break, unemployment insurance benefits and a measure to reimburse doctors for treating Medicare patients. Included in that hard-fought deal was a provision forcing Obama to decide whether to approve the Keystone pipeline. Last week, the administration rejected the pipeline's construction, saying the congressionally imposed deadline didn't allow enough time to review the project's environmental impact.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that a deal should be in place by mid-February to allow for its passage by the House and Senate before the current package expires at the end of February. If the negotiators don't reach a full-year agreement, the tax that most workers pay on their earnings to fund Social Security will revert in March to 6.2 percent from its current 4.2 percent rate.

The group of twenty negotiators will next meet again for a public meeting on Feb. 1. Rep. Camp said he expects they will have private discussions in addition to the public meetings, though no private meetings are currently scheduled.

2012 Will Be a Breakout Year for Small Business, and a Great Year for Michigan

growth(By Rob Fowler, SBAM President and CEO. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

I’m feeling more upbeat about Michigan’s economic future than I’ve been in a decade. The blocks are coming together to create a foundation of dynamism and job growth, and entrepreneurs are going to lead the way.

There are a lot of reasons I have such a positive outlook. SBAM’s semi-annual Barometer survey of 600 small business owners in October found that 86 percent of small business owners say their business outlook for the next six months is good or somewhat good. They are anticipating the enactment and energizing impact of business tax reform on January 1 and a fair percentage of them say they are already planning to hire more workers. I also talk every day with entrepreneurs, and I’m amazed at the number of them who tell me that, because they’ve spent the last few years getting their operations lean, mean and efficient, they are now thriving and looking forward to expansion and job growth.

Their optimism is being driven by a number of factors. First of all, the business tax reform I noted above is a jolt of energy aimed directly at the small, family-owned businesses in your town. Despite what you may have heard, the new, simplified Michigan Business Tax does little or nothing for big business, or big banks or “big oil.” Instead, it puts more money in the hands of entrepreneurs who will use this tax savings to invest in their operations, their workforce and their communities. 

Secondly, small businesses recognize that they finally have strong allies in the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate who understand entrepreneurs and are willing to make the tough votes that support small business job creation. Small business owners have elected men and women who have proven they are friends of small business. These lawmakers have demonstrated their vision of a better Michigan by simplifying our tax structure, working for a common sense regulatory environment and supporting “economic gardening” that builds home-grown small businesses and employment. 

Challenges remain. Chief among them is that there are still some legislators who claim they are “friends” of small business at the same time they propose polices that would crush entrepreneurship. But guess what? Small business owners are the ones who decide who their friends are. SBAM, as their association, holds policymakers to a high standard if they want to be known and recognized as friends of small business. We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring votes and telling lawmakers’ constituents when we approve or disapprove of their representatives’ actions.

2012 is going to be a great year for small business and a great year for Michigan. Entrepreneurs are going to be stepping on the accelerator and getting their business operations into high gear. They are going to be hiring more workers --- one, two, a half dozen at a time – and those numbers will be multiplied across thousands of small employers in every corner of the state. It’s important now to stay the course on policies and taxes and trust that small business owners, the men and women who are your neighbors, will take the tools in hand and finish the job of reinventing our state. 

(What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Rob's prognosis for Michigan? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.)

Steven Strauss Column: Top 5 Trends for 2012

Last week I started looking at the top 10 trends, factors, and events that will shape your business in 2012. This week we are down to the Top 5.

No. 5. Internet video takes center stage. Consider these statistics:
•    According to Cisco, online video now makes up 50% of all consumer Internet traffic
•    Last year, almost 200 million Americans watched online videos every month, and on any given day, 100 million people will watch videos online

What does this mean for your business? Plenty. People love video, and it turns out that video increases sales. Onlineshoes.com says that its conversion rate is up to 45% higher with video and Zappos.com says it sells up to 30% more when videos are used to display a shoe.

The upshot is that you need to strongly consider adding video to the mix, be it an online video brochure, a tour of your store, video newsletters, or just some instructional videos.

No. 4. Social media is becoming the land of the have and have nots: There seems to be two distinct camps when it comes to social media vis-à-vis small business: Those who get it and use it effectively and those that don’t give a whit about it (oh, and camp three – those that get it but dabble ineffectively in it.)

According to the 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50% of small businesses use social media. Those that do, do so for the following reasons:
•    80% of online visitors use social media daily
•    More than 50% of all social media users follow a brand
•    Social media is growing exponentially – Facebook added over 200 million users in 2011

So for the small business that has figured out that social media must be a key element to their business model going forward, I say way to go. To the other 50% I say – what are you waiting for?

No. 3: The death of 9 to 5: Does anyone really work at a desk five days a week from 9 to 5 anymore? Of course I am being facetious . . . or am I? A myriad of things have combined to make it so that we can work anywhere, anytime ( whether we want to or not): The Internet, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps, and software are the main culprits.
I say culprits because some of this work anywhere, anytime stuff is great (checking emails while waiting at the airport) and some of it stinks (checking emails while on the beach in Hawaii.)

As my sweet grandfather used to say: Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

No. 2. Are happy days here again?

First a caveat: I am not an economic prognosticator and no one here is saying that the economy is peachy because it is not. But that said, there are signs that the economic doldrums we have been in for too long may be lifting a bit:
•    Consumer confidence continues to rise
•    Unemployment claims continue to fall
•    4th quarter GDP growth is looking to be in the 3% to 4% range

And while lowered expectations seem to be the new normal, it is nice to be able to report something other than dour economic news for a change. If this trend continues, it will surely shape your business significantly in 2012, and happily for the better.
And the Top Trend for 2012 is

No. 1: Mobile mania! With iPads flying off the shelf and laptops outselling desktops, with smartphones all the rage and more than a million apps in the App store, with more than 20% of all searches being done on a mobile devise now, it is clear that the era of mobile work is at hand.

For the small business, this sea-change will have all sorts of ripples:
•    Employees will increasingly expect to work when and where they want (see No. 3, above)
•   &nbs
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