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    BCA advocates ‘greater emphasis’ on small business

    The old saying goes something like this: If you want to create 5,000 jobs it’s easy for 5,000 small businesses to each create one job.The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) would like to see a “greater emphasis” on small business during the legislative session that starts in March, according to the organization’s president and CEO, William J. Canary.

    “If small business is as important as we know they are, then why aren’t we giving them the same type of recognition and attention?” Canary asked. The organization, which represents nearly 1 million workers, hopes that Gov. Robert Bentley creates a cabinet-level post for someone to oversee small business.

    “It would give them (small business) a significant voice at the table,” Canary said. “It would make a huge difference. It’s a focused approach. It seems like a no-brainer.”

    Canary said that Bentley is considering a cabinet-level person in charge of small business, and that’s a first in state history. The BCA, which defines small businesses as having 25 or fewer employees, would like the Legislature to expand the cap on new market tax credits to improve access to capital for small business. The BCA is exploring a revolving loan fund, which would reduce the risk of lenders by creating a nonprofit that lends capital to small business, said Mark Colson, senior vice president of government affairs and chief of staff for the BCA.

    “What we’re trying to do, No. 1 is identify some of the problems and then focus on a solution,” Canary said. “They (small business) are always in search of capital and the ability to get capital.”

    Bentley has talked about concentrating on small business in his second term and that is just what the BCA wanted to hear. “That’s a very bold statement on his part of the importance of small business,” Canary said. “All we’re trying to do is join him in that focus and encourage him to look at this position of cabinet-level … Remember, this is all about job creation because it follows the bouncing ball towards the Education Trust Fund.”

    For every 22,000 jobs created, the Education Trust Fund receives at least $100 million from increased tax revenue, Canary said.

    He said that the BCA, which calls itself the state’s “foremost voice for business,” will continue to emphasize existing industry,” which accounts for 85 percent of job creation.

    That job creation is predicated on an educated workforce. Increasing the high school graduation rate to a statewide 90 percent by 2020 is the equivalent of a $400 million mega project every year,” Canary said, referring to an economic impact study conducted for the Business Education Alliance. The BCA is a powerful advocate of both the pre-K program to help prepare the state’s 4-year-olds for kindergarten and dual enrollment, which enables high school students to attend a community college at the same time. “When they get to ninth grade they need to have a career track,” Canary said.

    With business and industry and the state and postsecondary program working together “we are clearly making significant progress,” Canary said. “Education matters” to companies being recruited to Alabama or existing companies expanding, Canary said. It is one of those critical quality of life issues, as is health care.

    The BCA is encouraging Bentley to take a state-driven approach to expand Medicaid and receive $10 billion in federal money. Bentley has opposed Medicaid expansion without reforms, but in December said he could consider expansion with block grants.

    “We’re looking at this in many ways of returning Alabama tax dollars to the state and to ensure that our hospitals and physician payments are adequate so that they can continue to create the quality of health care that all of us seek,” Canary said. “We want to work with the governor in finding solutions in which everyone can achieve their goals. At the same time, we do believe that by not availing ourselves to an opportunity to have access to those resources potentially puts us at a less competitive situation than we want to be.”

    Another area of concern for the BCA is what Canary calls “an un-level playing field” for Alabama retailers charging sales tax while many Internet sales are not taxed although the customers are required to report their purchases. “It’s such an unfair disadvantage to local merchants,” Canary said. “That is an issue of not increasing anyone’s taxes, but it’s now tax avoidance.”

    Also at the federal level, Colson warned that Environmental Protection Agency proposed carbon regulations that will increase energy costs for businesses and individuals and also result in fines for non-energy companies that emit carbon.

    “I think the simple message to government is for them to put the private sector first,” Canary said. “Government doesn’t create jobs – the private sector creates jobs and there needs to be more of a partnership. We are continually heading in that direction, at least at the state and local level. Federal is a bit more complicated.” 

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