Economy

Small business owners feel left out of jobs discussion

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — At the local Chamber of Commerce here, a handful of employers discussed what would spark them to hire. Not one thought a tax credit would be of any use.

North Carolina, with 11 percent unemployment through October, already offers a state tax credit.

Instead of short-term boosts, they favored lower taxes and less paperwork to provide a better long-term business climate.

"You can plant trees or you can plant corn, and it seems like we've planted a lot of corn," said Benjamin Teague, the chamber's senior vice president of economic development.

The employers said that President Barack Obama first needs to attack fears about the economy.

"By getting people off the ledge, they'll do a lot to get people to start hiring," said Paul Szurek, the chief financial officer for Biltmore Farms, a mid-sized company involved in commercial development, residential homebuilding and hotel management.

Many fears about the economy, however, stem from initiatives that Obama is pursuing, such as health care and carbon trading legislation. Both efforts have employers concerned that their costs will rise.

Stephen Santangelo, the president of Palmer Wahl, a manufacturer of industrial temperature and pressure gauges, complained that small companies such as his feel forgotten by Washington.

"The stimulus planning was not done for small business at all," he complained.

If tax relief for employers is pursued, it should focus on smaller firms, said Steve Woods. The company that he built in Asheville, G3 Medical, sterilizes and packages medical equipment for manufacturers. He competes against big multinational corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, and said his growing firm would hire more workers if there were a lower marginal tax rate for small employers.

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