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Abrams: President Obama, adopt a ‘WPA’ program for small businesses

On Jan. 20, Barack Obama takes over the helm of the US government, and in large measure, will set the course of the American economy.

Mr. President – May I call you that already? – as you are almost certainly aware, small businesses and the self-employed represent approximately 50 percent of America’s gross domestic product. To help rebuild the American economy, you must directly and significantly help America’s small businesses.

To that end, I suggest as one of your first acts, that you adopt a “WPA”-type program for small businesses – a program that will enable small companies to adopt new technologies, adapt new strategies, expand and add jobs. (The WPA, or Works Progress Administration, was a massive Depression-era program that funded infrastructure projects, such as bridges and roads, but also programs such as job training, bringing electricity to rural communities, hiring artists and writers and funding cultural activities.)

My concept of a rebuilding program for small companies – I call it the “Grow America” program – is designed to provide small companies and the self-employed with:

- Subsidized direct technical assistance.

- Grants and loans for adopting new – especially green – technologies.

-Tax incentives for adding employees.

- An online portal for small-business information and connecting to pre-vetted service providers.

- Information and training for those who are laid off and can’t find other jobs to successfully make the transition to self-employment.

Let’s say there’s a dry cleaner in Phoenix. Right now, I’m guessing they’re struggling to adapt to new environmental requirements. They may not have a Web site or have the ability to use even simple online marketing techniques. In this economy, they’re almost certainly in danger of closing.

Instead, a WPA-program would provide a “Growth Team” to assist that small dry cleaner, helping them access government loans or grants to adopt the new technologies necessary to become “green,” and also providing pre-vetted, government-subsidized small-business consultants to help them market their business, put up a website. This, of course, would also provide work for self-employed marketing consultants, graphic designers, technology providers.

In particular, the components of a Grow America Campaign would include:

Growth teams, on a local level, to assist individual small businesses and entrepreneurs in solving their specific problems. These teams would be composed of pre-qualified service providers from the private sector, with preference given to providers who are themselves small companies or self-employed, thus creating work for those companies as well. Assisting them would be appropriate specialists such as Small Business Development Center (SBDC) counselors or Entrepreneurship professors from local universities.

A growth portal – an online portal to be the central address for entrepreneurs and small businesses to find the resources, assistance, and services they need. The online Growth Portal will be composed of:

- Exchange – to link up individual businesses with the growth teams and other service providers they need.

- Learning modules – for individuals to learn some of the skills necessary for growing and repositioning their businesses or transitioning to self-employment.

- Resources.

- Community.

Growth task force – a national commission/task force comprised of experts on a range of skill sets, such as business strategy, technology, and finance and across verticals, including green business, manufacturing, retail, and agriculture – to assist and encourage small business growth and formation, oversee the growth portal and network of local growth teams, and work with and leverage resources from the private sector to support and encourage new business formation and small-business growth.

Federal funds – to subsidize direct services to individual small businesses from local growth teams, for grants and loans to transition to or adopt new technologies, and to expand assistance from Small Business Development Centers and other small business technical assistance providers.

“Hire Your First Employee” tax credit – a 25 percent tax credit (or more) for those self-employed or new businesses to encourage them to take the step to hire their very first employee. (There are more than 20 million nonemployer businesses in the U.S.)

President Obama, congratulations on your inauguration. I know you plan to get to work immediately. I hope that one of your first actions will be to adopt a WPA-type program to help small businesses be a vital part of America’s economic recovery.

Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2009 Rhonda Abrams is the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest is “Successful Marketing: Secrets & Strategies.” Register for her free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com.

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