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Business Q&A

Starting a small business -- J.L.Wilson

'Business owners need to be free to run their businesses'

Personal File:

J. L. Wilson, 27, is the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Oregon. The Grants Pass High and Willamette University graduate lives in Keizer with his wife, Heather, and 10-month-old daughter, Abigail.

Is this a good time to go into business, compared to five or 10 years ago. Why or why not?

In my estimation, it's about the same. Historically, most business start-ups occur when there is a downturn in the economy. When the economy is sluggish and jobs aren't as plentiful, people tend to see the merits of being self-employed.

Now, is this a good time to start a business? Yes and no. Yes, because interest rates are low and I believe there are some real niches to fill in the economy. No, because people are tighter with their dollars than they were just a year ago and I don't think we're close enough to an economic recovery.

But the bottom line is that starting a small business is an uphill battle. Well over 80 percent of all small businesses fail no matter if the economy is good or bad. The right person with the right idea and a precise plan will always have an advantage.

Forbes Magazine listed this area as the No. 2 small-town location for business in the country. What stands out about the small business environment here?

I've always appreciated Southern Oregon for its business-friendly attitudes. The citizens and elected officials in Medford/Southern Oregon are much more connected with and have a greater appreciation for their business owners than the folks in more urban areas.

I think that is reflected in the rankings. Basically, I think it comes down to one thing: Business owners need to be free to run their businesses as they see fit. Where that freedom exists, prosperity will follow. But that freedom can be crushed under the weight of over-taxation, regulation and litigation. I think there is an inherent recognition of that principle in Medford. Combined with an educated labor pool and a decent infrastructure, it's an unbeatable combination that in part explains why Medford is regarded so highly.

What two things could Congress do in the near future to make small business more viable?

This is rather subjective, but I would probably include health care and regulatory fairness for small business. In terms of health care, small employers are being priced right out of the market. Congress would do well to pass a national Association Health Plan (AHP) law to let small business band together across the country to finally enjoy some purchasing clout. This would likely have a dramatic impact on reducing premiums.

Since regulation costs eat up about 20 cents for every dollar of revenue for a small business, Congress needs to ease the regulatory burden on small business. This can be helped by overhauling OSHA and the EPA to emphasize employer assistance instead of punitive enforcement. It can be done by strengthening the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. It can be done by giving small businesses a one-time penalty waiver for paperwork violations.

What issues would you like to see candidates for the Oregon Legislature debate during the 2002 campaign?

The state budget. We hear so much about how the state is going "in the hole" due to lack of tax revenue. Yet every session, state budgets have increased by double-digits. These are higher increases than most families enjoy.

The good thing about a perceived budget crisis is that it promotes honest, philosophical discussion about money, taxes, and budget issues. How much do we want to be taxed? What is the level of service we expect from the state? Just how efficient is state government? Is the money being spent wisely? Should a reduction in the rate of increase really be called a "cut"? These are all questions that will be brought into focus more than ever before.

As an advocate for small business, my job will be to argue against tax increases on individuals or small business, especially in light of a struggling economy.

How and when will Southern Oregon feel the effects of the Portland metropolitan area's financial malaise?

I don't gauge that Portland is in any worse shape than any other metropolitan area. Everyone is having a hard time right now.

Southern Oregon will feel the effects to the extent that the two economies are intertwined. To the extent that Portland provides tourists, or to the extent that Portland is a purchaser of goods and services from Southern Oregon, then Southern Oregon will suffer some hardship in connection with those industries.

When those effects will be felt is anyone's guess. Usually there is some lag time, but I would say that if the effects aren't being felt right now, then perhaps Southern Oregon is sufficiently insulated from the Portland economy.

To suggest a subject for this column, please contact business reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail