Government, Law, and Small Business & Startups

Local small businesses get a voice in Washington

West Michigan attorney named chair of National Small Business Association.

January 24, 2014
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West Michigan has gained a prominent voice within the National Small Business Association.

Clark Hill attorney Jeffrey Van Winkle will serve as chair of the organization this year. He was elected to the position in December and will serve a one-year term.

Van Winkle is the former chair of the Small Business Association of Michigan, a NSBA regional affiliate. As a member of Clark Hill’s corporate practice group, he focuses on representing businesses and entrepreneurs, with special expertise in investment and securities, international trade and a wide array of critical business activities. His experience also includes testifying before Congress and the Michigan legislature on small business issues.

“I think it’s a good thing that someone who has been working with businesses and active in legislative advocacy in Michigan is a voice that has a leadership role in this organization,” Van Winkle said. “I think it means that things of importance to Michigan don’t get lost.

“I also think we have a good base of small businesses in Michigan, and particularly in West Michigan, and I think that has given me a good base of understanding from which to evaluate policies as they impact small businesses.”

The NSBA is an advocacy organization made up of 65,000 small businesses spanning the country. It is focused on promoting small business issues within the federal legislature.

“We are trying to promote the needs of small business and make sure those issues are not lost,” Van Winkle said.

He outlined the three main advocacy priorities of the NSBA in 2014.

“As we think about 2014, one of the things that we know it will bring is continued focus on how capital is being raised by small businesses,” Van Winkle said.

He noted the organization has been working hard to promote access to capital for small businesses.

“In the past, that meant we tried to make sure that the Small Business Administration was adopting reasonable approaches to lending to small businesses, their target audience,” he said.

“In 2014, the implementation of the Jobs Act will continue to be a strong thrust of a source of capital, simply because new rules are going to permit businesses to try and solicit capital in new ways.”

Tax reform also will remain a prominent issue for the NSBA this year. Van Winkle said that in 2013, it seemed like tax reform was making headway but now, with the turn of the calendar year, that has become less likely, and the urgency has died down slightly.

“Certainly, both the House and the Senate have been doing a lot of investigation to explore what should be true tax reform,” Van Winkle said. “In the middle of 2013, it seemed like that might be ready for primetime in 2014. I think that is less likely now, but it’s still an important issue.”

Finally, Van Winkle said the NSBA supports reducing federal debt, even to the point of being willing to make concessions based on this issue. He expects a lot of dialogue with legislators this year.

“We are part of that broad, national, bipartisan coalition, and it is all about making sure that as expenditures are approved, as appropriations are approved, that the objective is to overall reduce the debt. …That is an important ingredient. We know that is what small businesses want. They are at times willing to say, ‘We’ll compromise on this piece if you know this is what is going to happen.’”

Another priority that had been on the NSBA 2014 agenda was pushing for the appointment of a leader for the Small Business Administration, but that item was knocked off the agenda this month when President Barack Obama selected Maria Contreras-Sweet to head the organization.

“Without a leader, the SBA loses its way a little bit,” Van Winkle said. “It’s an important service and it’s an important platform for small business issues in the country. We applaud the fact that the president has nominated someone.”

He said the NSBA would pursue further discussion regarding the SBA throughout the year.

In addition to its advocacy work, the organization also will work to increase its membership, particularly in regions that are underrepresented.

“We are working to grow our leadership ranks across the country,” Van Winkle said. “We have pockets of involvement, which are primarily in the Midwest and Northeast and a bit in the south-central part of the country, but we don’t have as much involvement from small business leaders in the western or deep southeast part of the United States. So one of our activities this year is to try and grow the base of leaders involved in our organization.”

Van Winkle noted a handful of prominent challenges for small businesses throughout 2014.

“There are some real challenges. One certainly is figuring out the appropriate response for small businesses to the avalanche of changes with respect to health care insurance and the cost of health care as it impacts small businesses,” he said.

“A second challenge is that small businesses, while they are coming back like many other businesses to the extent that their financial performance been poor in the last couple of years, their ability to obtain regular, ongoing financing from conventional banks is a challenge.”

He said many small businesses want to grow but still are unable to obtain the loans they need to do so.

Finally, he said the voice of small business is often drowned out in Washington.

“In Washington, big business tries to run the show, and our current administration certainly has at times listened to the voice of big business over the voice of small business,” he said.

“They’re certainly trying to listen at times, but it’s a voice that is easy to overlook. Just the overall thrust that Washington is focused on big business — that, in itself, is a challenge.”

Van Winkle’s position as chair this year also will ensure he has a prominent voice during the NSBA’s Small Business Congress, which will convene later this year to discuss priorities for the next two years.

“We do this every other year, and that is an opportunity for all kinds of small business owners to sit down, to spend time understanding issues, and then setting our priorities,” he said.

“For me, the opportunity this year to shape that event, to make sure that we have good participation, that is something I am excited about.”

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