Economy needs progressive approach

As the son of two small-business owners, it’s no surprise that for more than half of my life, I too have owned my own small business. When I was 23 years old, I opened a specialty printing shop in Madison, Wis., that I run to this day, and I firmly believe small businesses are the backbone of our local economies. But I’ve felt the burdens put on small-business owners through the credit crunch and confusing regulations. I want to do all I can in Congress to promote an environment that allows small businesses to expand and create jobs.

And for all of my life, I’ve been a progressive. I believe everyone should have access to affordable healthcare, I support a tax code where we all pay our fair share and I strongly advocate for the rights of workers. During the “uprising” at the state capitol in Madison two years ago, I stood side by side our state’s public employees, and I am proud that my small business has always been a union shop. 

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Unlike what I sometimes hear in Washington, I don’t find my small business and progressive values to be in conflict at all — I proudly count myself a member of two local chambers of commerce and a union. In fact, I believe that my progressive values, combined with my business background, make me a better small-business owner and a better representative who can help promote policies that allow our businesses to create American jobs. 

Quite frankly, we are not doing a very good job at that task. In the 25 years I’ve run my small business, I’ve always made buying American a top priority. But over the years, that commitment has become harder to abide by as the faltering economy and unequal trade deals have forced too many local businesses to close their doors. 

I used to sit on a board that connected angel investors with small-business owners, but I’ve seen these types of credit dry up as the financial crisis of 2008 has brought more uncertainty to the markets. 

And I’ve also felt the unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation from the halls of state capitols and Congress. When you own a small business, you wear all the hats — from accountant to Human Resources director. You don’t have the time or the resources to handle burdensome paperwork and unclear regulations that produce few benefits.

But I do not believe that the answer to these ails are harsh austerity cuts that strangle our economy. In fact, the irresponsible sequester cuts will reduce small-business loan guarantees by $900 million — siphoning off funds at a time when acquiring a loan is already a difficult task. 

Instead, as a small-business owner and a progressive, I want to see us invest in job growth and support initiatives that allow our small-business owners to get the people of our country back to work. 

We invest in our small businesses when we invest in infrastructure, such as the roads and bridges and airports that facilitate the flow of goods and customers to our front doors.

We invest in small businesses when we invest in our colleges and universities that produce the educated workforce we need for the jobs of the global economy in the 21st century. 

We invest in small businesses when we invest in innovation and research. In my district, the expansion of high-tech and biotech companies has not only led to next-generation advancements, but to significant economic growth that reaches other local businesses. When research funding is restricted, we hamstring both our ability to innovate and to create jobs.

There’s more — from cutting redundant and confusing regulations to promoting fair trade deals that create jobs in America to supporting job training and apprenticeship programs, we can, and we must, be proactive in Congress to support our small-business owners. 

But we can’t do any of these things if progressives and the business community are viewed as sitting on opposite sides of the table. In truth, we all want the same thing. Everyone benefits when the middle class thrives and has money to spend in the local economy. 

So let’s be pro-business. And let’s be progressive. Let’s invest in education and infrastructure and innovation so we can create jobs in a fragile economy. By getting people back to work, we’ll bring in more revenue and fight the deficit, and we’ll strengthen our communities and local businesses. That’s how we’ll turn our economy around. And to me, that’s good business. 


Pocan is a freshman Democrat, a small-business owner and a member of the House Budget Committee.