STEUBENVILLE - Where ever he went Friday in Jefferson County, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, heard the same lament: A burdensome regulatory environment, changes in the tax law and health care worries are choking small businesses, constricting growth of existing companies and deterring new businesses from opening.
"Government has done a good job of handcuffing business," Choice Brands president Nick Latousakis told Johnson.
Johnson, in Jefferson County for a small business tour, said the current regulatory environment "is just really making it an unfriendly business climate out there, regardless of what industry you're in."
BUSINESS TALK — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, left, talks with Tony Corella, owner of Two Brothers Dry Cleaners in Steubenville during a small business tour Friday. — Linda Harris
SMALL BUSINESS TOUR — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, talks with Robert Chapman, left, vice president, and Nick Latousakis, president of Choice Brands of Ohio, about the impact of government regulations on their operations at the beverage distributorship based in Mingo Junction. — Linda Harris
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, pauses to talk to a patron while server Angela Evans takes an order at the Triple Play Cafe in Steubenville during a tour of small businesses Friday.
He there've been nearly 7,000 regulatory changes or clarification rule changes in the last three months alone.
"The Obama administration released over 30-some more regulations than Bush, over 50 more than Clinton and 139 more than Ronald Reagan," he said. "It's like a free-for-all for the regulatory agencies. They feel like if they're not releasing a regulation then they're not doing their job. (They need to) look for ways to move business forward rather than being a barrier. That mindset has to change."
Bob Chapman, Choice Brands senior vice president, said companies like his "are here not just to sell (products) but to build the community."
But, as a businessman, he said he also has to be cognizant of the decisions being made by lawmakers in Washington and Columbus and how they ultimately will impact his company.
"I think this gives him a perspective about what a small business owner confronts everyday," he said. "It lets him know real people operate the company and that it's not just the owner, but the employees who are affected and how important their jobs are not just to them, but to their families."
Two Brothers Dry Cleaners owner Tony Corella said small businesses typically "don't make a fortune."
"People are afraid to go into business," he said. "If you wanted to open a dry cleaning store in Steubenville now, it's going to take $300,000 or maybe $400,000. Everything is so (expensive), it's tough. And then there's no safety net (if something goes wrong)...A lot of people don't want to start a business because what if you fail, there's nothing to catch you."
Corella said he spent about $25,000 on a machine when he got in the dry cleaning business.
"It costs from $60,000 to $70,000 now. We're talking 20 years and it almost tripled in price, and a lot of it is because of regulations."
Triple Play Cafe's Al Macre called it the "continuing saga of struggling small businesses."
"(It's) the increased regulatory burden, and uncertainty over how small businesses are going to be affected by the health care issue," Macre said. "Even if your business falls below the mandated level, you're still going to face changes in cost and the nature of health coverage for your workers."
Latousakis said the new EPA emission standards require his drivers to park their trucks "and go through a regeneration process" periodically.
"That could possibly take an hour or so," he said, pointing out that in his business, "you have to be there by noon or they lock the doors on you."
"Talk about a government regulation that can stop productivity and hinder business," he said. "They can't hit the standards now that they're trying to do and now there's going to be new standards coming down in two or three years where we'll have to cut the particulates even more."
Johnson said it's in Washington's best interests to encourage a business-friendly environment, "encourage businesses to grow and hire new workers and expand so they put more people to work."
"We need regulatory reform, we need spending reform," he said. "We need to focus on job creation, getting the economy going again."