(This column originally appeared on The Hill)
Last week was National Small Business Week. Did you notice?
If you’re like most small-business owners, probably not. Why? Because National Small Business Week is a farce. It’s a joke. It’s not really about small businesses. It’s about politicians and big corporate brands who want to sell their messages and products to small businesses.
Around the country, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been handing out awards to those they’ve determined to be small business “winners.” Who are these winners? Surprise, surprise, most of them skew younger and seem to come in all sorts of colors, races and genders, even though racial minorities own less than 20 percent of small businesses and the vast majority of small businesses are owned by white men over the age of 50. (Shh — no one wants to hear that.)
SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman was in St. Louis last week handing out some of these awards. Vice President Kamala Harris visited a bar in Miami to celebrate the “winners.” Even President Biden got in on the action, tweeting, “Let’s celebrate the unstoppable spirit of entrepreneurs nationwide that keeps our small business economy booming.” He’s no dummy — there are 33 million potential voters here.
The Biden administration also took the opportunity to inaccurately remind the world that “10.5 million new small business applications were filed in 2021 and 2022” (but forgot to mention that most of them are side gigs and freelancers threatened by their Department of Labor’s looming worker classification rules); that “3.1 million new jobs were created by small businesses” during his administration (but didn’t appear to consider that most of these jobs were recovered from an unprecedented global pandemic); and that “billions of dollars” in “loans, support services and programming to small business owners” were made available (even though this support has always been around from the SBA).
It’s not just Washington that’s getting in on the action. Governors, mayors, legislatures and politicians across the country, from California to Montana, to Texas to Georgia, are all “celebrating” their local small businesses — and grabbing a little extra free press in the process.
For a politician, saying that you “celebrate” or “support” small businesses is similar to saying you like puppies and ice cream. It’s a shared bipartisan joy. There’s no better way to kill a political career than saying anything bad about small businesses, unless they perform abortions, operate strip clubs, offer adult products, distribute tobacco or cannabis or sell guns. Wait a second — I don’t see any of those small businesses being “celebrated” or getting awards from the SBA.
For big brands, the week was a marketing bonanza. Just look at the sponsorsof National Small Business Week events: Visa, Amazon, Constant Contact, Facebook, Google, MetLife, Square, ADP, Lockheed Martin, T-Mobile, The UPS Store.
Besides getting top-billing from the SBA, these brands (and others) have been giving out their own awards, conducting surveys and holding virtual meetings, seminars, roundtables and other events under the guise ofsupporting small businesses. Yay for them! They love us! They really do!
So who really deserves to be honored during National Small Business Week?
How about the owner (a middle-aged white guy) of a family-run grocery store down the street from me who, along with his loyal workers, came to work every day during lockdown and served the terrified white-collar employees and teachers in my neighborhood who refused to go to their offices and schools?
Or the Korean lady who runs the dry cleaning shop on my block and has somehow stayed in business in these times of casual dress and working from home? This woman is a genius.
Or one of my clients (another middle-aged white guy) who runs a dirty, filthy machine shop in South Jersey but also has been a steadfast employer of more than 50 immigrants for over 30 years?
Or the two “wealthy” owners (their company made more than $400,000 last year) of a landscaping firm (another client) who still find a way to pay their taxes even when their cash has already been spent on new equipment, labor and inventory?
If the SBA wants to genuinely celebrate small businesses, it could (gasp!) innovate and create better financing vehicles for these struggling firms other than its tired “ loan guarantees” that could help these businesses survive and even grow during these high cost, slow economic times. It could hire outside consultants — not time-clock bureaucrats — to guide businesses toward funding available under the $1.7 trillion Inflation Reduction Act. It could be a better and more competent advocate for navigating the mess of the IRS and other regulatory agencies.
If the Biden administration really wants to honor our small businesses, it could formally exempt them from the current and coming tidal wave of new regulations from the DOL, FTC, NLRB, OSHA and EEOC, or stop demanding more taxes from our “wealthy” entrepreneurs. If local politicians want to share their love for small businesses, they could remove the kinds of crushing mandates and taxes that we have to pay in places like my city of Philadelphia, which inhibit growth and drive many to the suburbs.
And what about all those big brands jumping on the National Small Business Week marketing machine? Why not do something more tangible like focus on the one day for small business that actually seems to generate cash for us: Small Business Saturday. Make that your day to do your promotions and give away or significantly discount your products and services with the aim of attracting more traffic to your small-business customers.
“Sponsoring” events means nothing to us. Helping us get more customers and putting actual cash in our pockets — not yours — does.