With Shrugs and Skepticism, Business Owners Respond to Obama's Visit to N.J.
The President visited Edison to promote a small business lending bill. Scotch Plains and Fanwood's business owners remained unimpressed.
President Barack Obama's visit to New Jersey last week did little to influence Scotch Plains and Fanwood's small business owners.
On Wednesday, July 28, the President traveled to Tastee Sub Shop in Edison to promote a bill that would incentivize lending and expand tax breaks for small businesses. The House of Representatives narrowly passed the bill in June, but it has sinice stalled in the Senate.
Over sandwiches and dill pickles, Obama held a private roundtable discussion with four small business owners. He then delivered a seven-minute address to reporters, and departed via motorcade and Marine One helicopter for New York City.
Scotch Plains and Fanwood's shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and businessmen responded to the visit with a collective shrug.
"I don't know whether it was a token to make people feel better, or whether they'll actually extend money," said John Rock, 47, the owner of Park Ave. Vac Pros in Scotch Plains. "Initially, it sounds good. But like everyone else, I have my doubts when it comes to politicians getting things done."
The bill, called the Small Business Jobs Act, seeks to encourage small business owners to invest in and expand their shops and firms, namely by making loans more available and offering tax incentives. The bill would create a $30 billion "Small Business Lending Fund." The fund would be strictly limited to small banks – those with less than $10 billion of assets – and it would be tied to incentives: The more a bank loans to small businesses, the lower the interest rate it pays on money it withdraws from the fund.
Obama's visit fit a trend that has become common among the presidents of the past 40 years, said Brandice Canes-Wrone, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. "Presidents have increasingly made these small, targeted visits where they maybe give a short address or meet a select group of people," she said.
For those visits to be effective in leveraging public opinion, however, "presidents have to make a concerted effort," Canes-Wrone said. "Voters need to know about the bill, they need to know how it affects them. They have to send emails, letters – not all of them, but some – and show that it really matters."
That apparently hasn't happened, at least so far. Of the 21 business owners interviewed for this article, only four said they were aware of the bill or that it was the reason for Obama's visit to New Jersey. The rest said they had not heard of it, and most said they were unenthusiastic.
"I didn't know about it," said Doreen Kraycirick, 45, who said she has owned Shear Cuts salon on Mountain Avenue for 17 years. But as she later added, "I don't need it now. I'm not hiring, and I'm not expanding."
It was a view echoed by all but two of the business owners interviewed for this piece. "I can't hire anybody," said John Burr, 62, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited on Route 22 for eight years. He argued that no matter how low interest rates go, "unless more people start coming in the door, it won't help."
The measure did, however, appeal to two comparatively newer business owners in the township and borough. Jackson Lee, 35, the owner of Out of Bounds skate shop on Route 22 for four years, said he would consider taking a loan to invest in his business. "I would definitely seriously look into applying for something, to hire more staff or expand," he said.
Sam Kurter, 48, the owner of a deli on Martine Avenue for six months, agreed. "I would definitely apply for a loan to improve the business," he said. "Buy a new stove, new water heater, a freezer. The more we expand business, the more people we need to hire."
Canes-Wrone gave the bill a 25 to 30 percent chance of passing before the start of the Senate's recess Aug. 9. "It really is the campaign season for midterm elections," she said. "When you get late into the summer, Congress and the President get into blame-game politics."
But, she added, "If it doesn't pass now, there's a reasonable chance it'll pass in the lame-duck session." With the campaign season by then concluded, Canes-Wrone gave the bill a 60 percent chance of passing.
James Sweeney contributed reporting. For the full gallery of President Obama's arrival at Newark Airport last Wednesday, click here.