Dozens of Huntsville small business owners had an opportunity to take their concerns, ask questions and provide feedback on a wide variety of topics that affect their businesses directly to the White House, President Trump, federal agencies and Congress – and they did not hold back.
Bruce LeVell, Region 4 advocate for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, led a small business roundtable at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. Based in Atlanta, LeVell’s region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Mayor Tommy Battle opened the discussions by pointing out that small businesses make up 85 percent of the Huntsville business community.
“We have a very diversified small business community that represents every sector of business in this city, from the service industries to high tech,” he said. “In each of them we face our own separate challenges and those challenges end up being things that we can take nationally to our government.”
Among the topics discussed were deregulation; effects of the North American Industry Classification System codes have on small contractors bidding on large government contracts; federal acquisition regulations; realignment of government agencies; and availability of SBA 504 loans.
“I have experience in the day-to-day grind,” said LeVell, an Atlanta small business owner. “Meeting a quarterly payroll, paying quarterly payroll taxes and federal income taxes.
“I am one of you – not someone from the government offering to help. I’m with you on this.”
LeVell also discussed what he went through in the 2008 crash.
“I understand what it’s like to have everything you have worked for wiped away because your loans are called for no reason,” he says. “I have a lot of experience in transportation, revitalization, and construction. That experience honestly, is what catapulted me into wanting to serve. I asked myself, what can I do to get out and help advocate for someone else, so it doesn’t happen to them? I wasn’t trying to get appointed to this position, it just happened this way.”
The roundtable attracted small government contractors focusing on IT, cyber, logistics, and engineering services such as Mb Solutions. Company President and CEO Rosalyn Blackwell and Executive Vice President Rod Herron are retired military with a company barely two years old.
“We’re just there to listen and to ask questions as opportunities arise,” Blackwell said.
Kim Lewis, CEO of ProjectXYZ, a woman-owned small business in the engineering, logistics, IT, and alternative energy field said, “I want to know exactly what the SBA’s plans are under this administration; what goals have they set and how are they going to accomplish them.”
Owners such as Greg Franks of Total Quality Systems said he attended the roundtable because he wanted more information and reassurances about expansion.
“Our company is out of Utah and I am a small satellite office here in Huntsville,” Franks said. “We are still a small business with 20 or so people but we have a counterpart in Hopkinsville, Ky., and we want to open in Clarksville, Tenn. I need to know that is sustainable.”
Allison Rand with MJLM Engineering & Technical Services said, “A lot of the time, small businesses run into issues with the NAICS codes small business size standards.
“A lot of times it is based on employee numbers versus revenue. So, you can have 1,500 employees and $1 billion in revenue. How are you still considered a small business? So, in talking about changes to regulation, are you looking at NAICS codes as well?”
Another small business owner asked about a plan to realign many of the government agencies.
“I’ve heard people say you have a chicken, an egg, and an omelet – which government agency oversees that? USDA? FDA? Going forward, is there a streamlining process for lessening regulations? Where do you see that going? Is there any traction or just a buzz saw in Congress to make those sorts of changes to improve efficiencies?”
“In the end, all the (company) president cares about is profits a losses,” said LeVell. “The balance sheet doesn’t have a party affiliation; only a bottom line. The banker wants to see profits. The mayor wants to see profits for the city.
“You are the guys on the battlefront trying to make payroll, trying to pay payroll taxes but you want to see profits. I’m very optimistic!”