Remarks by the President in a Conversation on the Economy with Women
Small Business Owners
January 9, 2004
U.S. Department of Commerce
10:45 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You wrote that --
you read that just like I wrote it. (Laughter.) It's good to be here at the
Commerce Department. After all, that's what we're here to discuss, is
commerce -- and jobs and how to keep the entrepreneurial spirit strong in
Let me start off by saying, first of all, thank you all for coming. We're
going to have an interesting discussion about what it means to own your own
business and risk capital and employ people, what it takes to be a business
owner. And we've got five really smart, capable women who are running their
own businesses. Before we get to this discussion, though, I want to say I'm
really optimistic about the future of our nation's economy. This economy is
strong and it is getting stronger. (Applause.)
I'm optimistic for one reason, because I just spent a little bit of time
with five people who are on the front line of hiring. Their optimism was
really evident, as I think you'll soon hear. Secondly, I'm optimistic
because I see things happening. Unemployment dropped today to 5.7 percent.
That's not good enough. We want more people still working. But nevertheless,
it is a positive sign that the economy is getting better.
I see the manufacturing orders are up dramatically. I know the
productivity is high in America. Home construction is strong. All the signs
in our economy is -- are very strong. And that's positive for somebody who
might be wondering about whether he or she is going to find a job.
Secondly, I know what we have overcome in this country. I mean, this
economy has got to be pretty darn strong to have come through what this
nation has come through. Just very quickly, in the beginning of 2001, the
country was entering into a recession. I'm sure that affected you all.
Recession, by the way, is when there is negative growth for three quarters,
when things aren't going well for three consecutive quarters. That's a long
period of time if you own your own business. It's a long period of time if
you're looking for a job, by the way.
Then, all of a sudden, as the economy was getting better, the enemy hit
us. And make no mistake about it, the attack of September the 11th affected
not only our national psyche, it affected the economy. It hurt. It hurt
people who were thinking about risking capital. It made it hard for people
to find a job.
As well, we had a problem that fall when it turned out some of our
corporate citizens failed to live up to the responsibilities of leadership.
They didn't tell the truth to their shareholders and their employees. That
affected the psyche of the American investor. You know, capitalism is only
as strong as the integrity of the people involved in the process. And these
leaders will tell you that you've got to be open with your employees;
otherwise, they're not going to work for you very hard. In this case, these
corporate criminals had a negative affect on the country.
And then, of course, I made some tough decisions about how to secure
America and keep the peace by spreading freedom. And we marched to war. It
is not conducive to economic growth to see on your TV screens "America
is marching to war." It's not a very positive, optimistic message to
hear if you're thinking about risking capital. Who wants to take risk when
we're marching to war?
Now we're marching to peace, and people feel more comfortable about
making a risky investment. We've overcome a lot. And I'm optimistic because
not only do I talk to people who are optimistic all the time, I'm optimistic
because I recognized what this country has been through. It really speaks to
entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of the American people, is what I'm
talking about. This is a fabulous country.
The system says if you work hard, you get rewarded. You can own your own
business -- hopefully, without a lot of government interference. Speaking
about government interference, we made a conscious decision to make
government less intrusive into the pocketbooks of the American people in
order to affect economic growth. You might remember we went to the Congress,
not only once, but three different times, to affect real substantial tax
relief -- (applause) -- tax relief which left more money in the pockets of
the working people; tax relief which encouraged spending and saving and
You see, we cut the taxes on everybody. We didn't try to pick and choose
who got the tax relief. Our attitude was, if you pay taxes, you ought to get
relief. It ought to be fair and simple to understand. And by the way, the
tax relief had a significant impact on the entrepreneurial spirit of America
because a lot of people who own their own small business pay taxes at the
individual income tax rate. They're what you'll hear as a sub-chapter S corp
or a sole proprietorship. And so when you cut the taxes on the individuals,
you're really cutting the taxes on business, small businesses. And after
all, that's important, because most small businesses -- small businesses
create the most new jobs. Seventy percent of new jobs are created by small
business owners and entrepreneurs. The tax relief was important.
We had incentives in there for people trying to raise a family by raising
the child credit. We reduced the marriage penalty. Heck, we want a tax code
that encourages marriage, not discourages marriage. It doesn't make any
sense to say, if you're married, you get to pay more tax.
We gave small business owners incentives to invest by raising the
deductibility limits. And I think you'll hear some discussion of that today.
We reduced taxes on dividends and capital gains, which was particularly
important for retired citizens who rely upon dividend income to -- in their
So we did a lot, we've done a lot. I'm telling you, the tax relief came
at the right time and made a big difference for economic growth. (Applause.)
There's more to do. First of all, every one of these business leaders and
owners will tell you that if there's uncertainty in the tax code, it will
make it difficult for them to plan for the future. Business owners like
certainty. They want to know what the rules are. Much of the tax relief I
described goes away soon. Congress passed the tax relief, but they didn't
make it permanent. Job creation is vital. Permanency in the tax code will
mean more job creation. Congress must make every part of the tax package
These business leaders will tell you, health care costs are rising and
are difficult to manage. We need association health care plans to allow
small businesses to pool the risk across jurisdictional boundaries. Congress
must act. (Applause.)
We need medical liability reform. Frivolous lawsuits drive up the costs
of health care. They affect the budgets of these small businesses. They also
affect the federal budget. I mean, if you think about what frivolous
lawsuits do to the cost of Medicare and Medicaid and veterans' health
benefits, you understand what I'm talking about. I mean, it's an enormous
cost to the federal budget. We got a good bill out of the House. The medical
liability bill is stuck in the Senate. We need tort reform there; we need
class action reform; we need asbestos reform if we expect this economy to
continue to grow.
We need an energy policy. Congress needs to give me an energy bill. I
mean, it's hard for businesses to plan, particularly in the manufacturing
sector, if you're wondering where you're going to get your next watt of
energy. So we need an energy bill. Congress needs to act. Congress needs to
join this administration in listening to the voices of these entrepreneurs
to figure out how to keep a pro-growth agenda on the forefront. So long as
anybody is looking for a job in America, this administration is going to be
promoting a pro-growth, pro-entrepreneurial agenda.
And I'm honored to be joined by entrepreneurs, strong, strong women who
have taken the lead in their businesses and are providing a great service to
our country. They're not only providing a wonderful example for people who
are wondering whether or not I can own my own company, but whether -- but
providing the service of hiring people and keeping them at work and caring
about their employees.
I'm going to start off by Nancy Connolly. She is the President and CEO of
Lasertone Corporation, Littleton, Massachusetts. Welcome. (Applause.)
* * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, see, Nancy hires 20 -- there's a lot of companies the
size of Nancy's around the country that have got this sense of optimism. I
mean it's -- I don't think we would have had Nancy sitting here two years
ago saying, gosh, I look forward to hiring 20. I suspect she might have been
saying, I hope to keep the 70. A lot of small businesses were just hanging
on to what they had during tough economic times. And now this leader and
this entrepreneur are saying, 20 minimum -- it sounded like to me. And
that's how this economy works. It's very important for people to understand
it's the cumulative effect of many, many hirings that take place on a daily
basis, particularly in the small business sector that affect economic growth
Thank you for doing what you're doing.
Catherine, tell us about yourself and your business -- Knowledge
* * * *
THE PRESIDENT: One of the things I think is very interesting for people
to understand that Catherine just said -- she said the tax breaks that we
focused for small business owners caused her to buy new equipment and new
software. Well, somebody has to make that equipment and somebody has to
design that software and sell it.
So my point is, is that it's important for our American citizens to
understand the ripple effect of good tax policy. Good tax policy encourages
an owner to make a decision. That decision then makes it more likely
somebody else is going to find a job who will provide -- in the company that
provides the product. In Catherine's case, equipment and hardware.
It's very important that this incentive stay in place, because it is --
you just heard one example of the decision-making process that takes place
as a result of good tax policy. If the tax policy -- if Congress lets this
lapse, the ability to deduct to $100,000 their capital equipment, it would
then cause her to make different decisions in the out years. And so the
Congress needs to be mindful of what tax policy does to the decision-makers,
the job creators, people like Catherine, who made a rational decision based
upon good policy.
It's my honor to welcome right now -- why don't we go with Sharon Evans.
Sharon is a CEO of CFJ Manufacturing, Fort Worth, Texas.
MS. EVANS: There you go. (Laughter.) And I have to tell you, as a fellow
Texan, I'm very proud of what you're doing for this nation. But as a
business owner, I'm very thankful.
Because of the tax relief this last year, we were able to hire new
employees, we were able to purchase $170,000 in equipment. For the first
time in four years, we were able to bonus our employees, and we saw those
bonuses reinvested in our 401-k program.
CFJ Manufacturing was started 20 years ago. I was a single mother with
three children, so I know how difficult it is to start a business. It was
myself and one other employee. Today, we have 85 employees. We anticipate a
25 percent growth this next year, and it's clearly all related to the tax
THE PRESIDENT: I disagree. I think it's related to vision and hard work
and the Texas spirit. The tax relief helped, but none of these women should
discount their courage and their vision and their willingness to take risks
and to make wise decisions. (Applause).
MS. EVANS: I do have to commend you, too, as well as -- we utilize and we
are a certified women-owned business, and your support of women in business
has increased my customer base, which has, in fact, grown my business, as
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's very important -- what she's talking about is
contracting. For example, at the federal government, we ought to bust these
contracts down to smaller sizes. The role of contracting at the federal
level -- (applause) -- the proper role of contracting -- obviously is to get
good service for the government, but at the same time have the added
dividend of enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit; is encouraging small
business ownership; is to really achieve what we want to achieve, and that
is to expand the ownership society in America.
And by the way, the role of government is not to create wealth, but the
environment in which the entrepreneur can flourish. Make no mistake about
it, the role of government is to create the architecture in which people are
willing to take risk and make choice. But that doesn't happen unless
somebody's got a good idea, works hard, dreams big, treats their employees
with respect, and is capable.
So thank you for giving government the credit, but we don't deserve it.
Let me call upon Maria Coakley David. She is the CFO of CJ Coakley, Inc.,
right here in Falls Church, Virginia. Thanks for coming, Maria. And thank
you for the hat.
* * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me talk about job hiring, particularly in the
construction field. It's very important for these companies to understand
who they're hiring. I'm excited about the fact that you're expanding your
job base. I just want to make sure that you stay legal in your hiring
practice. And we've got a problem here --
MS. COAKLEY DAVID: It's a big concern, as well, for us, and I appreciate
you bringing that up.
THE PRESIDENT: It's got to be a big concern. Well, I'm talking about this
immigration issue that I brought up. My attitude is, any time an employer
can't find an American worker to do the job, that in this case she ought to
be able to hire a willing foreign worker, so long as that foreign worker has
got a -- what -- we're going to issue, a new card, a temporary worker card.
I don't like the idea of having an undocumented economy in the greatest
country on the face of the Earth, where people walk miles across deserts at
the hands of sometimes these coyote border smugglers who treat these people
inhumanely; they get into our society, they're doing work, but they're doing
work in an undocumented way, not above-board, but below the surface. They
can get exploited and have no recourse. And it's just flat wrong in America.
And we ought to recognize the system hasn't worked.
And so I proposed a plan that is a worker plan. It is not an automatic
path to citizenship, what they call amnesty. It is a plan that recognizes
reality in a common-sense way, so that when Maria's company starts
expanding, and she can't find somebody to lay tar on a hot August day, and
somebody else wants to, because they've got a family to feed, she can find
this person, and the person will show up to work. And by the way, that
person ought to be able to go back to his or her family without being
harassed, to be able to take money home, which is what they're trying to do.
So this is a common-sense plan. It makes eminent sense. It recognizes the
reality of today's workplace. We want our employers to be aggressive at
hiring people, but we don't want them breaking the law. And we've got to
recognize, in this society, there are just simply some jobs that are not
being filled by American citizens.
MS. COAKLEY DAVID: You're correct, and it is definitely a big concern for
our company. We probably have 70 percent Hispanic work force. We've recently
hired a bilingual receptionist to help us communicate effectively. We have a
lot of our newsletters translated in Spanish. And we do have to face the
facts. And we would greatly benefit from your plan.
THE PRESIDENT: This is important. The other thing what she's faced with
-- first of all, the fact that you've got an Hispanic work force means
you're doing well. These are fine people, we know well in Texas. They're
great people. Great people.
But there's a lot of false documentation. What kind of society is it
where the system allows for false documentation, falsifying these different
papers so Maria is not sure whether or not she's dealing with somebody she
ought to be dealing with. We need to make this above-board. And by the way,
it is humane to treat people with respect, citizen or not citizen. We want
to treat people with the utmost respect in this country. This is America.
It's the greatest country on the face of the Earth. We're not giving special
privilege. They don't get to but in line where somebody who wants to go
through the process in a legal way. We're just recognizing reality in a
common-sensical way. It's the right thing to do. (Applause.)
* * * *
THE PRESIDENT: One of the most meaningful things that's happened to me
since I've been the governor -- the President -- governor -- President.
(Laughter.) Oops. (Laughter.) Ex-governor. I went to Bethesda Naval Hospital
to give a fellow a Purple Heart, and at the same moment I watched him -- get
a Purple Heart for action in Iraq -- and at that same -- right after I gave
him the Purple Heart, he was sworn in as a citizen of the United States -- a
Mexican citizen, now a United States citizen.
It's a pretty special country, isn't it, where people are willing to come
not only to work to provide for their families, but to wear this nation's
uniforms and to go into harm's way for our peace and security. And Americans
have got to recognize how special America is, and how lucky we are to be
Americans in this country, and how a lot of really decent people would like
to join us. We've just got to make sure the system is orderly and fair and
meets national objectives.
Lurita. Lurita Doan is with us. She is the president and CEO of New
Technology Management, in Reston, Virginia. Welcome.
* * * *
THE PRESIDENT: I'm here to thank you all. I think the -- I hope you come
away with the same sense of optimism I do about the future of this country
when you hear these five women speak. I mean, this is a country which speaks
to five entrepreneurs here on the stage and says, dream big and go for it;
live your dream. Can you imagine a country where a woman like Lurita walks
in to Kinko's and says, I think I'll start a business by printing my first
business card. And here she is, 13 years later, speaking to the nation about
a business which is thriving, and is going to hire 75 new people.
It's a fabulous country, where people can dream big dreams and people can
risk, take risk and achieve their dreams through hard work, clear vision and
a good idea. It's hard to be a small business owner, particularly in hard
times. It's easier when the whole economy is growing, but it's even hard
then. It's hard to make the right decisions. But, obviously, I'm surrounded
by success, people who have been able to realize their dreams and accomplish
what is not easy to accomplish.
Government can help, but we can't make these women smart; we can't make
them dream; we can't make them compassionate. These are choices they've
made. And our job is to stand with them and to serve as a wind at their back
as they provide not only valuable goods and services, but, more importantly
for me right now, and for the country, is to provide a chance for somebody
to find work -- find work so they can fulfill their obligations as a mom or
I want to thank you all for joining us. Thank you for being great
Americans. I appreciate you helping me to explain how our economy works and
why we should be optimistic about our future. May God bless your endeavors
and God bless you all. May God continue to bless our great country. Thank
you very much. (Applause.)