Vox Optima Visits the White House Business Council
Posted on Jan 27, 2012 by JC Kreidel, Managing Director for Business Development | Subscribe to this RSS feed |
As any of you following me in the Twittersphere know, I was among 29 Hampton Roads business men and women who took part in a White House Business Council discussion on creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
It was a big kick just to be invited to this open business forum, but a couple of days ahead of the game, we learned we would also get to be on hand for some remarks President Obama had on business and the economy from the East Wing of the White House. Woo-hoo!
The day started out well enough, with an excellent tour of the East Wing, but sadly due to a communications error, I didn’t actually get in to the President’s press conference in which he announced his decision to elevate the Small Business Administration to Cabinet level or about his plan to consolidate six federal agencies focusing on making it easier to do business. Instead imagine a sad, Dickens-like character shivering in the windy, D.C. cold waiting to be allowed back in. Jokes aside about small business being left out in the cold, what can I say, security happens, and I didn’t let it damper my enthusiasm for our conference.
I was all excited to share all I had I learned as soon as I got back, but another top priority proposal to work through, monster ear infection, managing the pipeline, working the phones were all in a week’s work for any large or small business development manager. The blog had to wait … until now.
The brains behind it all is Business Forward, which works with the White House to put these meetings together. Its main goal is to “identify, recruit and brief small business owners, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs of all kinds who are looking for a meaningful way to participate in policy debates.”
And participate we did, armed with enthusiasm and questions.
Forgetting for now about this being an election year, the Hampton Roads contingent left the day’s events believing this: the Obama Administration really is listening to the business sector, and is earnest in its desire to make things better.
So let’s talk business.
The agenda was busy with spirited discussion on a great many topics ranging from healthcare, defense spending and infrastructure requirements to tax codes, contracting regulations and technology. It was a heady day of statistics and strategy, with Hampton Roads business reps listing countless concerns including the need for economic stability and a reduction of corporate taxes and contracting regulations. Administration staffers fired back with recent achievement updates and the plan for recovery.
With more than three dozen bodies packed into an Eisenhower Executive Office Building conference room, I’m sure no two of us came away with exactly the same set of notes, but here’s my key takeaways:
We ended 2011 okay, and we should expect “moderate growth” this year.
Despite hard times – and some hard decisions ahead – things really are looking up. According to Mark Doms, the Chief Economist for the Department of Commerce, the job market actually started pretty strong in 2011, but it ran into some major headwinds:
- the price of oil shooting up just as we started planning summer vacations
- unrest in Europe
- the debt debacle in late July and early August
- and of course, the terribly tragic tsunami in Japan.
Everything added up to the understandable concern of a “double dip recession,” but Doms told us instead that 1.9 million new jobs were created in 2011.
As for 2012, he said three things cause forecaster to predict only moderate growth:
- the housing market,
- government losses
- and the uncertainty in Europe.
With the slow down in government spending, he said we’d break even this year, with the deficit about the same as it was last year. And Doms pointed out there’s a “strong economic incentive to wean ourselves off foreign oil,” with something like $1,000/head spent last year on petroleum products.
He said American resiliency is testament to current growth – consumer spending is up 7 percent – and reminded us that successes of the last century came when leaders with vision invested in people.
Strategy for Innovation
Investment in people was echoed by Aneesh Chopra, the White House Technology Officer, who outlined the Administration’s plan for human capital, research and design, and 21st century infrastructure investments – particularly in healthcare IT.
Chopra is familiar to us in Hampton Roads, having served as our state’s Secretary for Technology. He was also on hand for the Hampton Roads Partnership’s second annual Regional Day, lobbying for innovation in the technology sector.
Chopra has long seen the Administration as an “impatient convener,” bringing together stakeholders to resolve problems, while cutting down the time it takes to get to solutions. He cited the President’s Veterans Jobs Initiative as an example of his Administration’s open philosophy vice bureaucratic logjam. Rather than try to recreate the wheel, the Administration worked with several leading job search companies to tag the resumes of Veterans so they are more readily available to prospective employers. In a matter of just a few months, more than 500,000 jobs have been posted for Vets thanks to this private-public partnership. With a growing Veteran population in our region — at last count Hampton Roads was home to more than 47,000 Vets – this effort means much to keeping them employed after they’ve left the military.
They’ve got their eye on the prize, and the game’s called Simplification
The volume of regulations is enough to choke a defense quarter horse. Perhaps taking a cue from Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” the Obama administration has taken aim at simplifying many things, among them DoD contracting regs.
The Administration has one goal in mind: make it easier to do business. According to Andre Gudger, director of the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) for DoD, one-third of old, laborious policies are gone and clearer, more concise regulations are on the way in.
Like so many of us, Dana Dickens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, too heart in the efforts saying, “From the business community standpoint, hearing about reducing the regulations and red tape that make it so hard for small businesses to operate was a big deal.”
OSBP also streamlined payment processes last July, getting small businesses paid faster than contracts dictate, and is focused on the establishment of Rapid Innovation Fund this year.
Gudger made two promises for the year ahead – there will be better procurement forecasting by consolidating forecasts and negative incentives doled out to large businesses who fail to meet their stated small business subcontracting criteria. He is also committed to driving more procurement from low-cost, technically acceptable modeling to best value, and surprisingly, tying senior executive performance evaluations to achieving small business goals.
While Gudger advised us to focus on product-based solutions in contracting, he added that OSBP wants new suggestions from businesses on anything to make the process easier. “If I know about a barrier,” said Gudger, “I will remove it.”
It is very much not business as usual.
Elevating the SBA to the Cabinet is validates the key role of small businesses plays in stabilizing the national economy
With the president naming SBA boss, Karen Mills, to the Cabinet, his Administration appears to be taking small business and its impact on the economy seriously. According to Greg Nelson, deputy director, Office of Public Engagement, “The purpose of elevating the SBA to the Cabinet is to give a more immediate voice for small businesses at the table.”
This was a sentiment echoed by Ari Matusiak, executive director, White House Business Council, who charged us with spreading the word (thus the blog) and feeding ideas to his office as the Administration moves toward achieving its goal of making business easier.
Chatting with other attendees in the days that followed, our opinions covered the range you might expect – from optimistic to dubious. Concrete examples of short-game wins were offered, as were plans for yet more, but political reality tempered hopes for future wins.
“I only wish our current political environment was not based on partisan one-upmanship,” says Linda Cramer, owner of Q10 Government Contracting out of Chesapeake. “Imagine if there were true interest in collaborating for the good of the country, to work together to strengthen our transportation infrastructure, our tax code, and to really support the ability of our agile and motivated small businesses to hire, develop new technology applications, and restore our position as the world’s leader.”
Still, it’s gratifying to be included in the conversation and it’s clear the staffers not only want us to bring the story back to our region, but also want to encourage the on-going communication. As Vox Optima is in the business of communication, we know you have to work the plan, and plan the work. Doesn’t do anyone good to map out a vision, and then not put your boots on the ground. But it’s not just my opinion they want, or my friends from that blustery D.C. day, but yours as well. The only bad idea is the one they don’t hear about.
For more information on growing your business, some useful links:
WhiteHouse.gov Jobs and Economy Section – www.WhiteHouse.gov/economy
WhiteHouse.gov Online Resources for Business – www.WhiteHouse.gov/economy/business/resources
Startup America Partnership Entrepreneur Toolkit – www.startupamericapartnership.org/get-registered
The Better Buildings Challenge – http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/betterbuildings/
Change the Equation (CTEq) – http://www.changetheequations.org/our-mission-and-goals
Skills for America’s Future – http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/economic-opportunities/skills-for-americas-future
U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC) – http://export.gov/eac/dom_staff_list.asp?PostName=Richmond
Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) – http://www.mbda.gov/main/offices
Small Business Administration (SBA) – http://www.sba.gov
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) – http://www.sba.gov/content/small-bsuiness-development-centers-sbdcs
U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) – http://www.eda.gov/
And coming soon, a new centralized, one-stop shop that will make it easier for businesses to access services that can help them grow and hire – www.BusinessUSA.gov
JC Kreidel is the managing director of business development for Vox Optima and fledgling social media geek. A former Navy journalist, JC spends most of her time drumming up business, overseeing proposals, directing our movers and shakers, and when she’s not doing that supporting our clients with her pearls of prose. She’d love to hear from you, so connect up with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or reach out through email.
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