Sunday, June 4, 2017
Trump Pleases Small Business
As news that President Trump was pulling out of the Paris climate accord hit at a luncheon for small-business owners in Toledo, Ohio, on Thursday, an already happy crowd suddenly turned euphoric.
“It was like a major win at a football game,” said Rick Longenecker, a management consultant who had been among the 50 or so attendees who gathered to trade thoughts amid a rapidly improving local economy.
While multinational corporations such as Disney, Goldman Sachs and IBM have opposed the president’s decision to walk away from the international climate agreement, many small companies around the country were cheering him on, embracing the choice as a tough-minded business move that made good on Mr. Trump’s commitment to put America’s commercial interests first.
This full-throated support from the small-business community comes even as the Trump administration struggles to advance health care legislation and tax reform plans through Congress — and despite the swelling controversy over Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.
In Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and beyond, many small businesses are reporting improved sales and bigger work forces — regardless of what is going on in Washington.
“We’ve had customers who actually brought business back from Mexico that we haven’t done in seven years,” said Bill Polacek, president of JWF Industries, a manufacturer in Johnstown, Pa.
While local business leaders acknowledge that little has been done by the administration so far in terms of turning promises into law, especially with regard to health care and taxes, most are not yet ready to blame the president.
“There is a new sheriff in town,” said Louis M. Soltis, the owner of a company in Toledo that manufactures control panels for large factories. “But the biggest frustration that I have is that there is so much resistance that is keeping him from moving forward.”
In the months following Mr. Trump’s election victory, as stock markets hit historical highs and companies kept adding jobs, the business community as a whole seemed willing to give the president a chance to follow through on his bold promises to revitalize the economy by cutting taxes and rolling back regulations.
But the move to pull the United States out of an agreement it had previously signed with 195 countries has opened up a fissure between smaller companies and some of the biggest names in business. In the hours after the president’s announcement, dozens of companies including General Electric, Facebook and Microsoft voiced their opposition to the decision, and two prominent chief executives resigned from the president’s business advisory council.
Many small-business leaders in the Midwest, on the other hand, were largely unfazed.
For those more concerned with their local economies than global greenhouse gas emissions, walking away from the Paris agreement was just another example of a bottom-line business decision made by a president who knows a good deal from a bad one.
“This just heightens the divide between big business and small business,” said Jeffrey Korzenik, an investment strategist for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati who spends much of his time talking to small businesses in the Midwest. “They really have different worldviews.”
At the root of this disconnect is a sense that companies that employ up to a few hundred workers — such companies make up 99 percent of businesses in the United States and account for half of its private sector employment — are held to a more onerous standard than their larger peers when it comes to complying with regulations.
At the Toledo luncheon, for example, much of the discussion centered on the fact that the climate treaty is nonbinding. To businessmen who have spent the past 10 years complaining of ceaseless rules and regulations, the very idea that the climate pact lacked teeth was galling.
“When companies here do business with a Ford or a G.M., they sign a contract that is not only binding — in many cases it is pretty harsh,” Mr. Longenecker said. “Now we have this deal to prevent a global catastrophe, and it’s nonbinding? That is ridiculous. And it makes us think that there is a hidden agenda, that we are just transferring trillions of dollars to China.”
To some small business executives, seeing the president talk tough to the Europeans and the Chinese was a reminder of why they voted for him in the first place.
“I think that we’re making a very big deal over a molehill,” said Dave Griggs, owner of Dave Griggs Flooring America in Columbia, Mo. which employs 16 people. “I think the president is exactly right, we need to certainly renegotiate.”
But local business leaders are not without their worries.
Mr. Griggs said that he was concerned about health care, particularly since Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City announced last month that it would pull out of the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act, potentially affecting many Missouri residents. However, he said he still believed the administration would come through on its promise to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better.
“We’ve got a Republican Congress, a Republican president; hopefully we can get some initiatives passed,” Mr. Griggs said. “I am highly optimistic.”
But by and large, local business leaders said they remained supportive of the president and believed the attention on his campaign’s ties to Russia was overblown.
John Bagge, 64, who runs a catering company in Kirkland, Wash., with his wife and two daughters, said his business was booming — so much so that this was the first summer he has had to turn away customers in 40 years.
“Until we have the evidence, let’s just keep busy making America a better country, growing the economy and putting people back to work, rather than spending so much time arguing back and forth about who’s guilty and who’s not,” he said.
The chief executives of big American companies were less sanguine, and many distanced themselves from Mr. Trump.
Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, and Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney, both resigned from the president’s economic advisory council on Thursday.
“Climate change is real,” Mr. Musk wrote on Twitter. “Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”
Other big company executives — including the chief executives Douglas McMillon of Walmart and Virginia M. Rometty of IBM — voiced their opposition to the president’s decision but said they would remain on the council.
“Disappointed in today’s news about the Paris Agreement,” Mr. McMillon said in a Facebook post on Thursday. “We think it’s important for countries to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Despite remaining broadly supportive of the president, some businessmen said that the whirlwind of controversies was beginning to raise questions about just how effective this administration could be.
Jim Stouffer, Jr. the president of Catawba Island Club, a local resort in Port Clinton, Ohio, said he supported the decision to leave the Paris agreement, but added that he was growing more uncertain of what the future holds.
“I don’t know what his endgame is,” he said.