Small Business Frustration

Community meets with Senate candidate to discuss challenges

Small business owners got the chance to vent their frustration over the slow pace of the region's economic recovery at a recent Vancouver campaign event for U.S. Senate Republican candidate Dino Rossi.

"We're here to talk about small businesses and our problems … and we've had a lot of them," said Arch Miller, the founder of the International Air and Hospitality Academy and the Renewable Energy Institute in Vancouver.

Miller was one of about 20 business owners attending a 90-minute roundtable discussion at the Hamilton Hall Red Cross Building on July 22 to voice their concerns about the state of the economy.

One oft-repeated grievance was that entrepreneurs and existing business owners still were unable to secure loans nearly two years after a taxpayer-funded bailout of the nation's financial system.

Paul Christensen, owner of the Paul Christensen Motor Company in Vancouver, said the decline in the number of locally-based banks presented an obstacle for many businesses looking to open or extend new credit lines.

So far this year, the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over seven Washington state banks – a list mostly consisting of small, community lenders. In January 2009, the Bank of Clark County was one of the first of 140 financial institutions to fail that year nationwide.

"Fewer banks mean fewer loans for people like us," Christensen said.

Rossi blamed the growing national debt, which recently hit a record-setting $1.3 trillion, for slowing the local, regional and national economy. "The national debt is going to start crowding out other things," he said. "It needs to be paid."

Another point of debate was the Columbia River Crossing project. While most attendees expressed support for the proposed replacement for the aging Interstate Bridge, there was disagreement over the inclusion of an extension of the MAX Yellow Line and the overall scale of the estimated $2.6 to $3.6 billion project.

"We've already spent $100 million just on planning this thing. Do we really need the Taj Mahal of bridges?" said John Bala, director of client services at Sigma Investment Management.

Lee Rafferty, executive director of the Vancouver Downtown Association said the biggest thing business owners struggle with right now is uncertainty – an assertion echoed by Rossi, who announced his candidacy against Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in June.

"Small business owners are afraid," Rossi said. "They don't know what the government will do next, and how it will affect them."

However, most of the participants at last week's roundtable discussion remained committed to growing their business despite the continuing economic difficulties.

 "I'm not going to let anything hold me back. I'm looking forward to going forward," said Vancouver Woodworks owner John Phillips.

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