Sometimes you just know something’s dumb. That in-the-trenches thing really makes a big difference when it comes to having relevant perspective. Even with wildly creative and enticing marketing strategies, a bad idea will fail.
Often, objectives aren’t about creating a successful initiative in government. Won elections mean more to most than the constituency they swore to serve. Bragging rights tend to override useful accomplishments. Incentives are now in the wrong place for smart long term thinking (even though the United States sluggish, laborious process to legislative decision was initially designed to ensure slow, thoughtful discussion on ramifications). Few decision makers understand small business issues as they brag of useful programs they propose.
If our founding fathers see us now, they’re probably praying for more Tums (or if they’re watching the commercials too, Zantac). But that’s a discussion for another day, and better done by a different blogger.
Not to digress too far, I was asked to help promote Start Up New York when it was introduced (in 2013). I couldn’t.
The biggest problem was it required an academic tie in which no one understood (at both the business and college level). Basically, it boasted tax abatement and technical assistance for businesses to locate in SUNY college proximity (which most campuses were ill-equipped to provide on both demanded fronts).
Not surprisingly, big private universities started jockeying for approved facility designation. Talk quickly turned from in-state small business support to large enticements for companies out-of-state. This failed too.
Heralded as a landmark initiative, it was clear immediately those designing this quagmire had never been a small business owner nor spent moments learning about the minutia that dictates SUNY campus decisions. It was a nightmare for all as campuses struggled to identify accommodating land & relevant onsite technical expertise and small business owners tried to figure out if they were a fit.
There were many problems from the onset. SUNY campus leaders resented being burdened with yet another state mandate without funds to support the administrative load or instructions on how to proceed. Business owners couldn’t find anyone to help them understand program benefits or qualifying demands. Supporting agencies charged with promoting the concept weren’t given information on how this would unfold. Basically, it was a “you design your custom college program and we’ll let you know if we approve” rollout. Opting out was not an option. It was clear no one driving this thing gave any thought to logistics.
The future of this program is clear to everyone except the designer politicians, who will blame others for the failure and cite an anomaly success story to prove they were right.
New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb had this to say on the late-issued 2016 progress report:
To call it a “report” probably insults all other reports. The highly-anticipated START-UP NY details were merely a section of a larger ESDC document on tax-credit programs. Think of a child cracking a drinking glass, and putting it in the cabinet with the other glasses so no one will notice – that’s how the state handled the START-UP NY results. And the job-creation numbers show us why. In 2015 START-UP NY created a total of only 332 jobs, bringing its two-year total to a paltry 408. Despite $53 million in taxpayer-funded advertising and lofty promises from the governor, START-UP NY has produced fewer jobs than those at a single Wegmans.”
Of course, Kolb is the Republican Minority Leader of the Assembly in a state governed by a Democrat, so he has an agenda with his comments, but he’s not wrong.
People tend to think of government money as free. Perhaps for those not paying taxes it is (although there’s a cost there too), but for the rest of us, that’s money we could have spent more wisely for greater economic impact.
Small business owners do better helping each other than looking for gifts from the government.
No matter what state you’re in, reconsider before you rally for a small business program culling tax dollars to make it so. Chances are, those designing it won’t understand small business needs, those implementing it won’t care and you’ll wind a up paying a lot more for something that sounds good in theory but results in more pain than profit.
We small business owners are an inventive, creative and resourceful lot. Let’s work together to design what we need instead of expecting those who don’t understand to invest tax dollars on our behalf wisely.
Have you been part of a private sector or not-for-profit initiative that really made a difference to the area economy? How about a small business coordinated program that touched the community in special ways? Did you find that more rewarding on so many levels than government driven actions? Please share in the comments below and look left to spread the entrepreneurial warmth.