Trump visit puts business on center stage

Clinton, Trump have different ideas for spurring small business growth.

It’s easy to see why Republican nominee Donald Trump chose a small business as a venue for his visit to the area Wednesday.

Small businesses like Staub Manufacturing Solutions, where Trump had a roundtable discussion with area business owners, were responsible for nearly half of all U.S. job growth last year.

Both major presidential candidates — Trump and the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton — have targeted small businesses with proposals that they say will reduce the financial and regulatory burdens for the companies that are responsible for billions of dollars in economic growth.

Trump spoke to 17 Dayton-area business owners and about 50 people total, half of them Staub employees. The metal fabricator employs 26 people.

At least with this audience, Trump seemed to hit the right notes. “We’re going to be cutting (regulations) massively,” he told the business owners, and “the taxes are too high.”

Steve Staub, 47, co-owner of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, said he likes Trump’s “common-sense approach” to eliminating Obamacare and unfair trade policies that have cost the U.S. manufacturing jobs.

“There’s a lot of common sense answers and I’m convinced like many others that there’s not a lot of common sense in Washington, D.C., anymore,” Staub said.

“Every day we’re just trying to compete and stay alive fighting foreign competition,” he added.

Opposing ideas

Both Clinton and Trump advocate lowering taxes and cutting through red tape to free up small businesses to grow. Both support tax relief and simplification of the tax code to stimulate sales and hiring at privately owned corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses.

But their proposals for accomplishing those goals are starkly different.

The cornerstone of Trump’s plan calls for instituting a special 15 percent tax rate on business income claimed on individual tax returns, known as “pass-through” income.

There are critics of this plan. According to the IRS, more than two-thirds of pass-through business income flows to the top 1 percent of tax filers, so critics say Trump’s proposal would benefit mostly high-income professionals, such as doctors and lawyers in private practice, rather than mom-and-pop shop owners, or other small businesses.

Clinton’s proposals include creating a new standard deduction for small businesses — like the one available to individual tax filers — and quadrupling the start-up tax deduction for small business owners who now can automatically deduct up to $5,000 of start-up expenses.

Her website says she wants to simplify rules so small businesses can track and file their taxes as easily as “filling out a checkbook or printing a bank statement.”

Charles Rowland, a partner at Babb & Rowland in Greene County and a Clinton supporter, said this election’s impact on business is about “rebuilding the middle class.” He said Trump’s plans — which call for lowering the tax rate for large corporations to 15 percent from the current 39 percent — don’t accomplish that.

“Hillary is in a much better position to do that,” he said of her strategies for middle-class wage earners.

Gregory Knox of Knox Manufacturing in Franklin is skeptical of Clinton’s business approach and said the presidential choice should be simple for small businesses. He said Clinton represents “big government, government interventions, more regulations and higher taxes.”

“On the other side, you have Donald Trump, who for three decades has been preaching against un-American trade agreements that have sent jobs overseas,” Knox said. “It has had a detrimental impact on the manufacturing sector of the Dayton region.”

Sandy Keplinger, the co-owner of Staub Manufacturing, said the business has pushed for Trump to visit for months. She believes the New York billionaire will raise the standard of living if elected.

“We’ve been trying to get him here since he was one of 17 in the primaries,” she said. “He’s just an amazing man. He’s done so much with his life. I know that he can take all of this his success and practices and philosophies that made him who he is today and apply it to the presidency. We are super excited.”

Finding workers

Reducing taxes on small business would allow them to better compete on price in the U.S. and overseas, and keep more of their profits. But that requires a large sustainable workforce, and another major problem for small business owners is finding qualified workers to fill open positions — a common refrain in the area.

According to a recent survey by payroll processor, ADP, 15 percent of small businesses said that finding qualified workers was their biggest problem, and 30 percent said they had job openings that they couldn’t fill — the highest level since the end of the Great Recession.

Trump has said his labor reform policies would raise salaries and wages and attract more workers who are now sitting on the sidelines because they can’t find good jobs. He has said he favors higher wages but wants to leave it to individual states to set the minimums.

Clinton, on the other hand, has promised to bring more workers back into the labor force by raising the federal minimum wage. She has also outlined specific workforce development initiatives, such as providing incubators, mentoring, and training to 50,000 entrepreneurs and small-business owners in under-served communities across the country.

One area business owner said it doesn’t matter who wins the election if they can’t get the support of Congress.

“We’re going to be happy to get out of this uncertainty period,” said Stephen Schwartz, CEO of Dayton-based Lion Apparel. “For us, we see the biggest challenge not with who is president, but how Congress operates. As long as Congress is dysfunctional and not taking responsibility for who is running the country, things will not get better.”

Staff Writers Barrie Barber and Thomas Gnau contributed to this report.

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