Clallam roundtable discussions provide rural business feedback to President Obama

Washington House Democrats

Tharinger, Van De Wege host White House Business Council events

SEQUIM – Lack of access to capital presents major challenges to small business owners on the Olympic Peninsula, and yesterday they had the opportunity to relay their concerns directly to the White House Business Council and the Small Business Administration. A group of small business owners and civic leaders gathered in Sequim for a roundtable discussion on the economy and the hurdles small businesses are encountering as the region – and nation – emerge from recession. The event was hosted by state Representatives Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, and facilitated by Calvin W. Goings and Jennifer Clark of the United States Small Business Administration.

A similar roundtable event, organized by the office of Congressman Norm Dicks, took place earlier in the day at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Community Center and included Tribal leaders and business owners. Tharinger and Van De Wege were also in attendance.

“It’s important that President Obama hear from businesses outside the I-5 corridor,” Tharinger (D – Dungeness) said. “Rural communities like ours experience the recession and recovery differently from urban areas, and we want to make sure the rural perspective isn’t overlooked when decisions are made back in D.C.”

A variety of business sectors were represented at the Sequim discussion, including retail, manufacturing, food production, real estate, hospitality, and the financial industry. Civic leaders in attendance included Sequim’s mayor Ken Hays, and Linda Rotmark of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

Goings, the Assistant Associate Administrator for the SBA and a former Washington State Senator, started off the discussion by asking participants if they felt the economy was still in a downward spiral, bumping along the bottom, or slowly working its way upward again. While the vast majority of attendees felt the business environment is improving, the inability to obtain loans or lines of credit makes it difficult, if not impossible, for these businesses to grow even when demand exists for their product or service.

“What we heard pretty loud and clear at both roundtable discussions is that the tight credit market is the top concern right now,” Van De Wege (D – Sequim) said. “Most of these business owners said they are not burdened with high taxes or overregulation, but that without access to financing they won’t be able to compete or succeed. I think that’s something the federal government needs to be monitoring closely, as well as the state.”

Other concerns raised by business owners included the high costs of providing health care coverage to employees, and local, state, and federal regulations that haven’t kept up with the times or that are at odds with each other.

All feedback was recorded and is being delivered – unfiltered – to the White House. The SBA representatives also promised to follow up individually with business owners whose attempts to secure SBA-backed loans have been unsuccessful.

“The President understands that two-thirds of new jobs created in this country are in small business,” Tharinger said. “Here on the Olympic Peninsula we have businesses ready to create family-wage jobs right now, and all they need is a positive answer from a lending institution. We need to focus on making sure there are no unnecessary roadblocks to economic recovery.”

 

Photo, from left:  Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, SBA Assistant Associate Administrator Calvin W. Goings, Clallam County business owner Bret Wirta, and Rep. Steve Tharinger at the May 30 White House Business Council roundtable in Sequim.  Photo courtesy of Linda Barnfather.

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