Small Business Focus: Watch out for knuckleballs

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 22, 2002


Baseball’s opening day is a couple of weeks away and already the hard-core fans are engaged in a serious guessing game about how many home runs San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds will hit this year. But few who follow the game have any doubts in his ability to get the job done because he’s a master at the most important skill a batter needs: keeping your eye on the ball. It might be instructive to have this record-breaking batter visit the nation’s capital and demonstrate his ability to the federal government, especially Congress, which has been known to lurch for those pitches that look like easy homers, but are way outside.

One knuckleball hurled at official Washington recently was a plea from some in the business community to ease up on credit policies, claiming that a “credit crunch” is threatening to kill the economic recovery. “Foul ball,” cried NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg, who monitors the pulse of the nation’s small-business owners and knows a wild pitch when he sees one. Even before Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan confirmed last week that an economic expansion was off and running, NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index had reported a large gain in January, the third-straight monthly increase and a strong signal that a recovery was underway.

Are small-business owners sitting on the bench and wringing their hands because they don’t have access to credit? Not a chance, says Dunkelberg, whose data revealed that the bulk of those firms that were borrowing had no credit-market problems. Only five percent reported any financing difficulties. You might think that since there is no real “credit crunch” and the numbers prove it, that would end the inning. But politicians, like baseball players, are already thinking about the big games coming up this fall – the Nov. 5 elections. No opportunity to hit one for the voters will be missed.

Unlike baseball, politics is not a game. It’s serious stuff, because far too often those wild knuckleballs lobbed in from special interest groups slip and slide their way onto the law books of this nation.

One sure way Congress and federal policy makers can help the nation’s economy score big time is to keep their eyes on those real issues that hinder small businesses’ efforts to recover. And nowhere in the top problems facing the entrepreneurs of America will you find anything called a “credit crunch.”

The toughest opponents in the lineup facing Main Street firms today are health insurance costs, taxes – federal, state and FICA – finding qualified employees, government regulations, workers’ compensation costs, federal paperwork, cash flow and energy costs. All of these are key to improved profitability, the primary problem of those who have credit difficulties. Small-business owners can’t afford to sit out this season. Even though they will be desperately pressed to get their operations back up to speed, no opportunity to call or write lawmakers should be missed.

The message to Washington is simple: focus your time and energy on solving the real problems hindering economic recovery and ignore the knuckleballs.

JACK FARIS is president of the National Federation of Independent Business.