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Are political candidates "using" small businesses?

Posted by Jason Keith  January 18, 2012 08:30 AM

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By now you're probably weary of the coverage of the Republican Presidential nomination race. With the candidates touring through New Hampshire this past month, there's been an increased focus locally on the candidates - what they stand for, where they are in the polls and what they are doing nearly every waking moment. As candidates continue to go state to state, all have made it a point to talk about how they plan on supporting small business owners, but are also physically visiting a number of them along the way. Make no mistake, capitalizing on the "small businesses power the American economy" message isn't a partisan strategy, it's leveraged by all politicians every election cycle.

If you're asking yourself why they do this, the answer is simple: it works.

The real question is, are these visits a legitimate attempt to hear from and speak to the small business owners who are struggling and have real issues, or are small businesses ultimately a politically expedient group that can be exploited over the course of a campaign?

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. While politicians should and sometimes do have the best interests of small businesses in mind, they are also a "go to" group to focus on when times are tough. No one is going to ever argue that supporting small businesses is a bad idea. What's interesting is that some businesses along the campaign trail aren't playing along by allowing politicians to visit them and essentially be part of the political game.

A local story recently caught national headlines when Portsmouth, New Hampshire restaurant Colby's Breakfast and Lunch took a stance against "political visits," hanging out a sign for the door that read "No Politicians No Exceptions" as a courtesy to dining patrons. Jessica Labrie, a manager at the restaurant told, "They make a big deal when they come in here. You can watch all this stuff on the news, but when you're here eating breakfast, you don't want to hear it."

The owner of the business also weighed in on the story. "I find it incredibly rude," said Colby, who said his political views are as liberal as they come. "I also find it amusing that they talk about how the economy and small business is so important, yet they are OK with creating a disturbance that impacts my small business."

It's a difficult position for small business owners: take the media coverage that comes with a candidate visiting, or potentially alienate customers and try to survive the ensuing circus. Entrepreneur reporter Diana Ransom recently penned a story talking about how five small businesses were impacted by political visits in the past. While most enjoy the exposure - which could cost thousands of dollars to secure with traditional advertising - the crush of media that physically follows the politicians inside is almost always a disruption to the day-to-day operations.

Saturday Night Live once did a very funny skit that highlighted this tried and true political phenomenon, using Bill Clinton as the politician.

As I've written in the past, there is significant research that shows small businesses have little appetite to grow in terms of headcount and typically don't. While thousands of small businesses are created each year, nearly as many are forced to close. There's a reason there were 21.7 million non-employer firms (zero paid employees) in 2007 that reported self-employment income. They don't want to hire anyone and have to deal with the headaches of insurance, payroll, benefits and the like. They're happy being sole proprietors, in a sense. If they need government support, it's in the form of less red tape and oversight.

So as a small business owner do you feel that politicians too often talk about your needs but do little to actually help you? If you had a politician visit what would you ask for in terms of support? Would you take the Colby's Restaurant and Lunch stance and bar them from coming in at all?




This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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