What do you think is a typical thought when a small-business owner tries to gauge their success in business? Is it, “Hey everyone, look what I built!” Or, “I’ve suffered long and hard, but it’s so worth it!” Or maybe, “I’m just so grateful for the people who believe in my product or service and everyone who helped us get here.”
For us at Autosport Labs LLC in Lynnwood, it’s gratitude. We are in awe at how fortunate we are that we get to do something we enjoy for customers just like us, solving their problems and making a buck in the process.
Which made us so proud of President Barack Obama when he said the following at a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va.: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” He referenced our roads and bridges, the Internet, a great teacher in our life. As a small business, it seemed he was speaking directly to us, to the heart and soul of what’s required to take an idea and, seemingly against the odds, against the naysayers, make that idea into a reality, and then into a business!
We had our doubts when we started out. When we embarked on this, we gave up any notion of “free” time. When others were watching TV, we were soldering circuit boards. When our friends were going away for the weekend, we were building and testing units for a big order for our distributor in the United Kingdom.
When our two young daughters were bored and wanted to go home after a long day at the lab, we’d make deals to structure a fun family outing for next weekend if they could just sit tight and give us one more hour to get something right.
We made sacrifices. We worked hard. We felt sometimes like we were doing it alone. But always, we knew in the background, we were not alone. Without the infrastructure America has built in the Internet, phone lines, electricity, roads, the U.S. Postal Service, libraries and our public school and community college educations, we would not have built what we have today. Without America’s peaceful relationships with other governments, we would not have been able to sell our products in more than 25 countries.
That infrastructure has a price. It hasn’t been easy to obtain our permits and approvals. It hasn’t been simple to navigate licensing and establishing our corporate structure. To top it off, getting insurance was a series of hoops I hope we never have to jump through again. We had a lot to learn that had nothing to do with our core business. To say it was frustrating is an understatement. The only thing easy about those early days was the ability to be frustrated at the hurdles that almost always seemed to have a stamp of The Government on them in some way.
To subscribe to Mitt Romney’s point of view about building business, however (“We built this” in case you missed the Republican National Convention), one would have to believe that anyone who builds a business in this country did it alone because they were smarter or worked harder, and “the government” is the enemy. As a small-business owner who just went through the hassles described above, it’s tempting to agree. The problem, though, is that’s too simple.
The government we small businesses deal with is not the same one the big corporations deal with. The government the lobbyists spend millions to gain access to every year, the one the Super PACs spend millions to influence at election time, the one we think we’re electing is not always government that works for the people and small businesses. It’s one that will rewrite rules to work in the favor of large corporate interests over what’s best for the average citizen. How else to logically explain why we can’t get campaign finance reform to work? Or why we’re letting Wall Street invest pensions and trusts into commodities speculation, the very things that affect the livelihoods and cost of goods for average people? Or why the stock tickers keep hitting all-time highs when the middle class is shrinking daily?
Perhaps the most befuddling aspect of the debate in our country is the prevailing opinion that utilizing government to improve our day-to-day lives is somehow a bad thing, a shortcoming. What’s wrong with the government providing a stable foundation for job creation, with great schools, good roads and transportation, where we have safety nets for the elderly, the ill, for people who hit hard times? Where financial institutions are not allowed to gamble with your pension, where you earn a livable wage for an honest day’s work? Where food, water and air are safe, where our military isn’t used to protect corporate interests but instead to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? How is that classified as “freeloading?” That’s the purpose of government, that’s its job!
We have two presidential candidates going into November on opposing platforms with two slogans from their conventions: “Forward, not back” and “We built this.” The America we have right now is not working well for a majority of its citizens, so should we be proud that “we built this?” As voters and business owners without a time machine to alter the past, the only thing that seems logical to me is keeping an eye to the future, moving “forward, not back.” The future is the only thing any of us have the ability to effect, so to stand solely on past individual accomplishment is insufficient to create a future that works well for all.
Our small business believes in the restoration of our country’s government, to be one of the people, by the people, for the people. To see it once again serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats, and where those boats are grateful, for customers, for infrastructure and for a government that supports and encourages dreams.
E pluribus unum.
Kelley Picasso lives in Edmonds with her husband, Brent. She is chief operating officer and he is CEO of their business, Autosport Labs LLC, an automotive electronic ignition engineering firm they run from a small shop off Highway 99 in Lynnwood. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.