Yesterday, Barack Obama took the oath of office to begin his second term. He faces a different environment than he did when he became President four years ago.
At the time, the country was in the depths of the Great Recession. The stock market was down, bonuses were withheld, large corporations needed government bailouts to avoid bankruptcy, and companies were laying people off. Entrepreneurs seeking capital to start small businesses had a difficult time securing financing. The country turned to a leader who promised "hope and change" at the time.
Although the economic recovery has been far from robust, the overall picture is better than it was in January 2009. The boom times of the mid-2000s have been replaced by more a solid but unspectacular economic reality.
According to a recently released Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, nearly 60% of respondents said the country was on the wrong track, while about a third felt the country was heading in the right direction.
There is concern over the budget battle. While both parties claim to want to reduce the deficit, it seems that they cannot agree on how to do it. Small business owners and their employees have already felt the pinch with the increase in payroll taxes. With average Americans seeing 2% of their income disappear from their monthly take-home pay, small businesses, in the retail and service industries that rely on spending that comes out of disposable income are bracing for the impact.
Entrepreneurs who make more than $400,000 a year also took a big tax hit. However, it was encouraging that the President changed the definition of the "wealthy" (narrowing it from those who earn $250,000 to those who make $400,000). In areas of the country where the cost of living is high -- namely, urban centers such as New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco -- small business owners making $250K are unlikely to consider themselves among the "rich."
Owners of small companies are also preparing for the "employer mandate" of the Affordable Care Act that goes into effect in January 2014. This provision requires companies that have over 50 full-time employees (staff that work more than 30 hours per week) to offer medical coverage or face government-imposed penalties. This hinders job creation as small business owners.
So how are small business owners reacting?
According to a widely read story by Wall Street Journal small business reporter Emily Maltby, employers are looking to keep their number of full-time workers to under 50 and hiring temporary workers and freelancers instead. Yes, independent contractors are often sole proprietors themselves, but the larger issue is that companies are looking for ways to skirt around the Obamacare mandate. While this undermines the intent of the legislation, no one should be surprised that small business owners, particularly those who are cash-strapped, would look for ways to avoid paying the high cost of healthcare coverage.
Despite all this, I see encouraging signs for the economy at the beginning of President Obama's second term. Our most recent Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index (December 2012) found that big banks are approving nearly 15% of loan request they receive, a significant increase from a year ago when the figure was less than 10%. Small banks and credit unions are granting about half of the applications they receive, and alternative lenders are providing funding to nearly two-thirds of the companies that ask for them.
While the waters ahead may be a little rough at this point, I believe America's entrepreneurial ship is sailing full steam ahead.
This opinion column was written by Rohit Arora, co-founder and CEO of Biz2Credit, an online resource that connects 1.6 million small business owners with 1,100+ lenders, credit rating agencies and service providers such as CPAs and attorneys via its Internet platform. Since 2007, Biz2Credit has secured $800 million in startup funding, small business loans and business lines of credit for entrepreneurs across the U.S.