How Can Washington Help the Sign Business?

Several sign-industry professionals offer insights on how Washington can impact their business

Living in a society where differences of opinion are accepted is a benefit of democracy. However, during election season, freedom of speech presents its most trying moments. The nasty insults and questionable half-truths tossed between those seeking public office, from President to coroner (to my knowledge, no candidate for coroner in this election cycle positioned himself as the “pro-life” candidate, as I witnessed in a Kentucky campaign several years ago – it’s always fun when politics and irony coincide), can be mind-numbing and often discouraging.
After a very long campaign, presumably most Americans are relieved that election season is over. (I know of one exception: an E.W. Scripps Co. employee who said he will miss the massive infusion of ad spending bestowed upon the Cincinnati ABC affiliate the company owns.)
After an exhaustive campaign, with approximately $2.6 billion reportedly spent between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, poll returns indicate that President Obama has persuaded the voters to give him a second term to attempt to rectify economic malaise. Of course, an electorate polarized by such an intensely contested race will generate a mother lode of editorials and social-media posts with sharply worded rhetoric on both sides.
In an effort to capture level-headed thinking, I’ve reached out to sign-industry professionals and asked them what the federal government can do – in well-considered, non-partisan terms -- to help them improve their business over the next four years. Thankfully, handful of respondents complied – and only one inflammatory reply had to be deleted.
Here are their insights:
“I recently attended a White House meeting that included small-business leaders from our community. The administration invited groups from all over the country to meet with administration leaders and talk about what is and isn’t working. There some amazing takeaways – both for things the administration is doing right, but things they are doing wrong, as well. Here are some things I learned we, both citizens and lawmakers, should bear in mind:
• Regulations need careful review on a regular basis to ensure they’re still helpful, necessary and without unintended consequences. And, don’t forget, for every business owner that wants a regulation tightened, another may seek to relax it, to their benefit. Speak loudly and often.
• Tax cuts are the most important need for small businesses, but being judicious about where cuts are made is important. Finding ways to make the “right thing” easy – growth, hiring, innovation – isn’t obvious, but we must be creative and innovative in our approach. Work with folks in your community who are like-minded to create a push for your ideas.
• Education is an area that desperately needs innovation, both to keep up with technological changes and better understand how we learn. Innovation doesn’t come naturally to those in the educational field. And, innovation requires some failures to fuel later successes. Pushing for change, even if we make a mistake, is critical to achieving goals. (The same principle applies to businesses!)
Our job, as business owners, is to communicate with lawmakers on local, regional and national levels. Don’t assume your one voice doesn’t matter. It does. Keep talking!”
-- Maggie Harlow, SignARama franchise owner (Louisville, KY)
“Like other small-business owners, those of us in the sign industry depend on a few simple things to be successful. Mainly, we need a robust economy. Our customers include businesses of all sizes, and the products and services we provide are somewhat discretionary. When customers actually need a sign during good economic times, they might op for a $2,000 lobby sign, instead of a basic, $1,300 project, for example. They also might seek fewer bids when business conditions are better.
Despite its reputation for being unfriendly towards business, I don’t find being located in California to be a negative. Regulations are relatively few, and they’re enforced fairly. Labor laws here can be annoying, but that’s a state issue, not a federal concern. I have no competition from Mexico, China or anywhere abroad, so trade policies don’t impact my business.
I just need the government to get off the backs of my clients. When factories or offices shut down and work is shipped overseas, that hurts me directly. The next President has a very difficult task ahead. Stimulus funding is likely finished, Europe is an economic mess, and even China’s economy is slowing down. The prospect for another near-term recession is significant. Options for the Fed seem to be few.
We continue to thrive because of our service, and I don’t know if any regulations can help or hurt how I take care of my clients. That’s a good thing."
-- Paul Jester, co-owner, Miramar Sign Works & Graphics (San Diego)
“Most of my problems with government exist at the local level. In New Jersey, zoning and building regulations are a big problem. I can’t expand my shop without a variance, and I’ve been unable to find a suitable facility that wouldn’t also require a variance. Just obtaining permits for signs can be a nuisance; townships often reduce allowed square footage for signs, and sometimes even prohibit colors. Many customers would rather take the risk and proceed without permits than deal with local officials."
-- Gary Johnson, owner, Great American Sign Co. (Basking Ridge, NJ)
“Like all companies, small businesses rely on consumer confidence. Confidence in the economy is a key driver to consumer purchases and investments. In order to continue to boost confidence, I believe our federal leaders need to continue to reform tax policy to encourage and support small-business growth. Small business is the financial engine of our country, and as sign-industry owners and professionals, we are a part of this engine, and will see positive benefits from these changes.”
-- Ray Palmer, president, Signs Now and Signs by Tomorrow (Plymouth, MI)
“I believe healthcare reform would help all businesses. Workers-compensation insurance premiums would decrease or be non-existent. In my experience, insurance companies simply seek to avoid treatment in workers’ comp cases.”
-- Scott Thiessen, business manager, New Bohemia Signs (San Francisco)