During a recent in-state work period – a feature of the Congressional calendar designed to give members of Congress the ability to devote time to being in their home states and districts – I had the opportunity to travel around south and southwest Arkansas with my friend and colleague, Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-4).
Congressman Westerman and I embarked on a tour we called the “Talk Small Y’all” Small Business Tour to highlight the importance of small businesses to our state’s economy and the local communities where they make such a significant impact. The tour was designed to be an opportunity for us to listen and learn, which is exactly what we did.
We know small business owners embody the values and ideals that helped build our country—hard work, willingness to take risks and vision. More than 90 percent of Natural State businesses are small businesses. They employ nearly half of Arkansas employees.
As we visited with business owners, managers, employees and other industry and civic leaders, Congressman Westerman and I heard a few common messages repeated.
One of their biggest needs involves hiring a workforce that is educated, ready and able to work. We also heard about how regulatory burdens, and especially uncertainty, are detrimental to their ability to grow and invest in their own companies and employees. Another plea we encountered frequently, particularly from Main Street retailers, was the urgent need to level the playing field by requiring internet retailers to collect sales taxes just as their brick-and-mortar counterparts must.
But one thing is abundantly clear: the small businesses we visited on this tour, and the thousands of others across Arkansas just like them, are optimistic about the current climate and the direction we are headed. Congress, under Republican leadership, has eliminated onerous regulations that went beyond commonsense approaches to protect public safety and health. We also passed meaningful, historic tax reform that makes our nation’s businesses more globally competitive.
On our small business tour, we visited manufacturing companies, an oilfield and industrial products supplier, a foodservice distributor, dining establishments and retail stores. We also sat down with community bankers because they are instrumental in providing small businesses with the capital and resources needed to get off the ground or invest in their operations.
This array of businesses and interests are representative of those found in towns and cities across Arkansas.
I appreciated the opportunity to visit with Arkansans about small business issues and to hear their real-life experiences in regards to what it’s like to run, manage or work at a small business today. Congressman Westerman and I are taking these firsthand accounts back to Washington, D.C. to help craft policy and legislation that incentivizes and encourages people across Arkansas and throughout the country to pursue their dreams and create or expand businesses like those we visited.
It is an easy thing to say, but we truly cannot forget the role that small, local businesses play in our communities. They employ our family, friends and neighbors. They generate economic activity that extends far beyond one sale or purchase. They also give back in so many ways—financially, philanthropically and more.
We simply have to support small businesses. When they reach new heights of success, our entire country benefits.