Enough already with Joe the Plumber.
Listen to the likes of Lisa the pharmacist, Julio the ad man and Tenessa the graphic designer.
They own small businesses in the region. While they disagree on whether to support Democratic Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain, foremost on their minds is how the next president will affect their businesses.
“The economy and the country are badly hurting,” said Julio Colmenares, who owns CGR Creative in Charlotte. “Something has to change, that's for sure.”
He and other owners worry whether they can grow their businesses, if health care changes will affect their companies and whether the next president can fix the economy.
Small businesses are a lucrative target for candidates: About half of all private sector employees work for small companies, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. And over the past decade, small businesses have generated 60 percent to 80 percent of net new jobs annually.
Yet small-business concerns usually take a backseat in campaigns. This year, however, the candidates needed a way to address the economic crisis in terms that voters could easily grasp, Davidson College political scientist Patrick Sellers said. Joe the Plumber, who questioned Obama about his economic policies at a campaign event, provided McCain a way to do that. A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, which advocates for small and independent businesses, found that optimism among small-business owners remained at recession levels nationally.
Lisa Honeycutt, who owns Tega Cay Family Pharmacy in Fort Mill, S.C., has an up-close view.
Several months ago, as gas prices started spiking, Honeycutt said she noticed a decrease in prescriptions by some customers because “people are making choices between medication and eating.”
A recent New York Times story stated consumers are using fewer prescription drugs for the first time in a decade. Doctors and other experts told the paper that the economy was a big factor in the decline.
Honeycutt said she may vote for Obama, even though she generally favors Republicans, because his health care plans make more sense to her. She did not think the health care tax credits McCain is proposing – $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families – is a realistic number. Her nearly 4-year-old business, with four employees, is still doing well, she said, although she remains concerned about what would happen if her taxes rise.
Obama has said he wants to end certain tax breaks for individuals who earn more than $200,000 or families earning more than $250,000; McCain does not.
Colmenares said he may support McCain because he dislikes the $250,000 threshold and he'd prefer a tax cut, so he can increase the size of his business or pass along the benefits to the employees in his eight-person shop.
But the Venezuela native is disappointed that neither candidate has focused much on immigration issues, which he sees as a big concern for employers, especially given the state's growing Latino population. Census data show that the Carolinas' Latino population continues to be among the highest in the nation, with more than 800,000 people last year, a number that many believe is actually much higher.
Tenessa Moore, owner and sole employee of Moore Creative Ink, a graphic design business in Charlotte, is focused on taxes and finding more funding sources. “What matters to me as a small business owner is what you can do to make the economy better,” she said. “I'd like to bring in more employees, but I need the cash flow and it's not there.”
Potential clients have told her they cannot afford to spend money now. Moore thinks Obama has a better handle on the economy, and would be able to help small-business owners because he is interested in helping people who are not in the highest tax brackets. “Don't give (tax breaks) to someone who doesn't need the money,” Moore said.
Cheryl Crutchfield has a different take. She owns Casco Signs in Kannapolis with her husband, Kevin. They have 27 employees.
She is leaning McCain, mainly because of a possible tax increase on income over $250,000. “I'd be penalized for the hard work and determination to grow our business so they can give it to people who are not willing to make the extra sacrifices,” she said.