[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)] [May 5, 1998] [Pages 694-696] [From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]
Message to the Congress Transmitting a Report on the State of Small Business May 5, 1998 To the Congress of the United States: I am pleased to present my fourth annual report on the state of small business. In short, the small business community continues to perform exceptionally well. For the fourth year in a row, new business formation reached a record high: 842,357 new firms were formed in 1996. The entrepreneurial spirit continues to burn brightly as the creativity and sheer productivity of America's small businesses make our Nation's business community the envy of the world. My Administration has worked hard to keep that spirit strong by implementing policies and programs designed to help small businesses develop and expand. We have focused our economic strategy on three pillars: reducing the deficit, opening up markets overseas, and investing in our people through education and technology. Our efforts with respect to small business have been concentrated in a number of specific areas, including directing tax relief to more small businesses, expanding access to capital, supporting innovation, providing regulatory relief, opening overseas markets to entrepreneurs, and strengthening America's work force. A Balanced Budget and Taxpayer Relief When I took office, the Federal budget deficit was a record $290 billion. I determined that one of the best things we could do for the American people, including small business, would be to balance the budget. Because of our hard choices, the deficit has been reduced for 5 years in a row. By October 1997, the deficit had fallen to just $22.6 billion--a reduction of $267 billion or 90 percent. These lower deficits have helped to reduce interest rates, an important matter for all small businesses. Small business owners have long recognized the importance of this issue. At each of the White House Conferences on Small Business--in 1980, 1986, and 1995--small businesses included on their agenda a recommendation to balance the Federal budget. With passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, I signed into law the first balanced budget in a generation. The new budget will spur growth and spread opportunity by providing the biggest investment in higher education since the GI bill more than 50 years ago. Even after we pay for tax cuts, line by line and dime by dime, there will still be $900 billion in savings over the next 10 years. And at the same time we are easing the tax burden on small firms. My Administration and the Congress took the White House Conference tax recommendations seriously during deliberations that led to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. The new law will direct billions of dollars in tax relief to small firms over the next 10 years. Small businesses will see a decrease in the estate tax, an increase to 100 percent over the next 10 years in the percentage of health insurance payments a self-employed person can deduct, an updated definition of ``home office'' for tax purposes, and a reduction in paperwork associated with the alternative minimum tax. Significant new capital gains provisions in the law should provide new infusions of capital to new small businesses. By reducing the capital gains tax rate and giving small business investors new options, the law encourages economic growth through investment in small businesses. Access to Capital For so many small business owners, gaining access to capital continues to be a very difficult [[Page 695]] challenge. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) plays a key role as a catalyst in our efforts to expand this access. The SBA made or guaranteed more than $13 billion in loans in 1997. Since the end of fiscal year 1992, the SBA has backed more than $48 billion in loans to small businesses, more than in the previous 12 years combined. In 1997, the SBA approved 45,288 loan guaranties amounting to $9.46 billion in the 7(a) guaranty program, a 23 percent increase from 1996, and 4,131 loans worth $1.44 billion under the Certified Development Company (CDC) loan program. Included in the 1997 loan totals were a record $2.6 billion in 7(a) and CDC loans to more than 10,600 minority-owned businesses and another record $1.7 billion in roughly 10,800 loans to women-owned businesses. Over the last 4 years, the number of SBA loans to women small business owners has more than tripled, and loans to minority borrowers have also nearly tripled. The Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program, the SBA's premier vehicle for providing venture capital to small, growing companies, produced a record amount of equity and debt capital investments during the year. The program's licensed SBICs made 2,731 investments worth $2.37 billion. In 1997, 33 new SBICs with combined private capital of $471 million were licensed. Since 1994, when the program was revamped, 111 new SBICs with $1.57 billion in private capital have entered the program. And in the past year, the SBA's Office of Advocacy developed a promising new tool to direct capital to dynamic, growing small businesses--the Angel Capital Electronic Network, or ACE-Net. This effort has involved refining Federal and State small business securities requirements and using state-of-the-art Internet technology to develop a brand new nationwide market for small business equity. Government Support for Small Business Innovation As this report documents, small firms play an important role in developing innovative products and processes and bringing them to the marketplace. Federal research and development that strengthens the national defense, promotes health and safety, and improves the Nation's transportation systems is vital to our long-term interests. Our Government has instituted active policies to ensure that small businesses have opportunities to bring their innovative ideas to these efforts. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs help ensure that Federal research and development funding is directed to small businesses. In fiscal year 1996, more than 325 Phase I and Phase II STTR awards totaling $38 million went to 249 small businesses. Also in 1996, the SBIR program invested almost $1 billion in small high technology firms. The program has touched and inspired individuals like Bill McCann, a blind--and once frustrated--trumpet player who used SBIR funding to help start a company that designs software to automatically translate sheet music into braille. Today, Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology is rapidly expanding the library of sheet music available to blind musicians. Other initiatives include the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Advanced Technology Program, enabling small high technology firms to develop pathbreaking technologies, and NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which helps small manufacturers apply performance-improving technologies needed to meet global competition. Two of the SBA's loan programs--the 7(a) and 504 loan programs--currently assist 2,000 high technology companies. And the SBA's ACE-Net initiative is especially designed to meet the needs of these dynamic high technology firms. Because they give small firms a footing on which to build new ideas and innovative products, these efforts benefit not only the small firms themselves, but the entire American economy. Regulatory Relief A pressing concern often identified by small businesses is unfairly burdensome regulation. My Administration is committed to reforming the system of Government regulations to make it more equitable for small companies. In 1996, I signed into law the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, which strengthens requirements that Federal agencies consider and mitigate unfairly burdensome effects of their rules on small businesses and other small organizations. A small business ombudsmen and a new system of regulatory fairness boards, appointed [[Page 696]] in September 1996, give small firms new opportunities to participate in agency enforcement actions and policies. Because agencies can be challenged in court, they have gone to extra lengths to ensure that small business input is an integral part of their rulemaking processes. Many agencies are conducting their own initiatives to reduce the regulatory burden. The SBA, for example, cut its regulations in half and rewrote the remaining requirements in plain English. All of these reforms help ensure that the Government maintains health, safety and other necessary standards without driving promising small companies out of business. Opening Overseas Markets Key in my Administration's strategy for economic growth are efforts to expand business access to new and growing markets abroad. I want to open trade in areas where American firms are leading--computer software, medical equipment, environmental technology. The information technology agreement we reached with 37 other nations in 1996 will eliminate tariffs and unshackle trade in computers, semiconductors, and telecommunications. This cut in tariffs on American products could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs for our people. Measures aimed at helping small firms expand into the global market have included an overhaul of the Government's export controls and reinvention of export assistance. These changes help ensure that our own Government is no longer the hurdle to small businesses entering the international economy. A 21st Century Work Force American business' most important resource is, of course, people. I am proud of my Administration's efforts to improve the lives and productivity of the American work force. We know that in this Information Age, we need a new social compact--a new understanding of the responsibilities of government, business, and every one of us to each other. Education is certainly the most important investment we can make in people. We must invest in the skills of people if we are to have the best educated work force in the world in the 21st century. We're moving forward to connect every classroom to the Internet by the year 2000, and to raise standards so that every child can master the basics. We're also training America's future entrepreneurs. The SBA, for example, has improved access to education and counseling by funding 19 new women's business centers and 15 U.S. export assistance centers nationwide. And we are encouraging businesses to continue their important contributions to job training. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 encourages employers to provide training by excluding income spent on education for employees from taxation. We are taking steps to improve small business workers' access to employee benefits. Last year, I signed into law the Small Business Job Protection Act, which, among other things, makes it easier for small businesses to offer pension plans by creating a new small business 401(k) plan. We made it possible for more Americans to keep their pensions when they change jobs without having to wait before they can start saving at their new jobs. As many as 10 million Americans without pensions when the law was signed can now earn them because this law exists. Given that small businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs in the last four years, they will be critical in the implementation of the welfare to work initiative. That means the SBA microloan and One- Stop Capital Shop programs will be uniquely positioned to take on the ``work'' component of this initiative. The work opportunity tax credit in the Balanced Budget Act is also designed as an incentive to encourage small firms, among others, to help move people from welfare to work. A small business starts with one person's dream. Through devotion and hard work, dreams become reality. Our efforts for the small business community ensure that these modern American Dreams still have a chance to grow and flourish. I want my Administration to be on the leading edge in working as a partner with the small business community. That is why an essential component of our job is to listen, to find out what works, and to go the extra mile for America's entrepreneurial small business owners. William J. Clinton The White House, May 5, 1998.