The state is dotted with a number of lesser-known groups that claim to speak for, or serve, small business
Author: Bob Sanders
Publication: New Hampshire Business Review
The Job Creators Network Foundation prepares educational materials – on such topics as why corporate taxes should be cut – that employers can slip into workers’ paychecks.
“Employees want to hear from employers on things that impact the success and failure of their businesses,” said David Tille, the organization’s Northeast regional director.
New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility focuses on the “Triple P”: people, planet and profits, said Amanda Osmer, director of sales at Grappone Automotive Group and a longtime member of the organization.
“It’s not all about the race to the bottom,” she said.
The Independent Business Council of New Hampshire, founded by former congressman Frank Guinta, plans to lobby on behalf of small business, though it is still determining exactly what positions it will advocate for.
“With 40,000 small businesses, there is always room for another organization,” said Guinta.
Most businesses know about their local chamber of commerce, and the statewide chamber, the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire. They might be familiar with their local trade organizations, such as the New Hampshire Retail Association or the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire. Or they may know of the NFIB, National Federation of Independent Business.
But New Hampshire is also dotted with a number of lesser-known groups – many of them formed recently – that claim to speak for, or serve, small business, each with its own twist and spin.
In addition to the three groups mentioned above, they include: the Small Business and Small Industry Association of New Hampshire; the New Hampshire Small Business Institute; the New Hampshire Christian Business Network; the Jewish Professional Network; and Business Network International.
Each offers an alternative to mainstream business groups, and they seem to be proliferating in the state a bit more than usual, perhaps as the term “small business” gets bandied about by political groups of all ideologies.
Yet each claims to be nonpolitical and interested in serving only the interests of members.
The BIA and NFIB both lobby at the State House and cover much of the same political spectrum. They agree on most issues, but NFIB tends to be more conservative. For instance, NFIB opposes hiking the gas tax and expanding Medicaid, positions that the BIA has endorsed.
The BIA is the larger of the two. It’s now 101 years old, with 400 direct dues-paying members and 3,000 affiliate members from local chambers, with nine staffers, including five registered lobbyists. Its influence is well known – the go-to organization when most legislators seek out the viewpoint of business.
While the organization has grown some 26 percent since 2005, President Jim Roche thinks it could do a better job, especially in reaching out to small businesses.
“I don’t believe that we’ve done a good enough job in explaining the depth and the reach of our work,” he said.
Roche wouldn’t comment on the work of any other business group, but he does wish to counter the impression that the BIA mainly represents large businesses.
Over half of the BIA’s dues-paying members employ 50 people or fewer, and over a third employ less than 10 – and that doesn’t count the smaller affiliate members that participate through some 17 local chambers, he said.
NFIB – which has 1,700 dues-paying members in New Hampshire – has been around since World War II, but it only employs Bruce Berke, a lobbyist who represents other clients as well.
NFIB is the group “that truly represents the mom and pop,” said Berke, but “we welcome anyone who wants to come to New Hampshire to help small business be in a better position to operate and compete in a constructive manner,” he said.
Job Creators Network Foundation
Among those newcomers is the Job Creators Network Foundation, which said it doesn’t try to influence lawmakers and leaders. It tries to influence employees. One of its first five state chapters opened last year in New Hampshire.
Founded in 2010 by Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus and executives from other national companies, such as Best Buy, Staples, Whole Food Markets and Food Lion – the Job Creators Network Foundation presents itself as a champion of small business. It calls itself a nonpartisan organization that believes “government policies are breaking the backs of business owners and killing job creation,” according to its website.
Among those policies is the Affordable Care Act: “Few have been hurt by the new health care law worse than the entrepreneur,” writes former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson.
The group calls for cutting the federal corporate tax rate by 25 percent, cutting state spending and opposing a minimum wage hike.
“Hiking the minimum wage hurts the lower-wage workers it is supposed to help by causing fewer of them to have jobs,” the organization says in the “Kitchen Table Economics” section of its website.
Among its services to members, the network provides materials to be included along with the paychecks of employees to let them know how such policies might hurt the businesses that provide their livelihoods.
A nonprofit based in Texas, the Job Creators Network Foundation had a nearly $3 million budget in 2011, according to the latest available tax filing with the Internal Revenue Service. It recently became a 501(c)(4) organization, which gives it the right to advocate and advertise on issues, if not for candidates.
But Tille, a former aide to former New Hampshire senator Bob Smith and ex-congressmen Jeb Bradley and Guinta, said his chapter focuses on working with existing business organizations, as well as with individual business.
“It’s to connect the dots on public policies that are well-intentioned but may have a negative impact on job creation and on business,” Tille said.
“It’s not heavy-handed,” Tille said of the employee outreach, noting that the organization tends to call the health care law the ACA, not Obamacare. “It’s information. It is voluntary. Employers can use what materials they want to use.”
Tille has heard no complaints from workers, but AFL-CIO President Mark McKenzie denounced such efforts as “intrusive” and “politicization of the workplace.”
While the Job Creators Network Foundation doesn’t lobby at the State House, it does distribute “pro-free enterprise educational tools” to businesses and holds some informational and networking events, mainly at the New England College satellite office in downtown Concord.
It has been working with the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire and might work with the BIA in the future, said both organizations. Concord architect Harold Turner, a former BIA board member who now sits on the Job Creators Network Foundation of New Hampshire advisory board, said that the group has more of a “grassroots approach – more bottom-up rather than top-down.”
Businesses for Social Responsibility
An organization that’s not new on the scene is New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility. The nonprofit has been around since 1989 in various forms, but it has been raising its profile and varying programs it offers.
No longer affiliated with a national organization, NHBSR has a relatively small budget – $123,000 in revenue, according to the latest filing with the IRS (for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012), and some $70,000 through a government grant via the University of New Hampshire.
The rest comes from the dues of about 170 members, including about 20 nonprofits. Members range from large employers – like Bedford-based Coca Cola of Northern New England, Hypertherm in Lebanon and Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington – to sole proprietorships. The group hired its first CEO in 2005. It’s a job now held by Michelle Veasey, who is currently the only staff member, though “we are hoping to hire another person,” she said.
Although most of its members tend to be on the more liberal end of the spectrum, the group, as a 501(c)(3), cannot and does not take position on issues, though it does pass around the positions of some of its members, such as Stonyfield Farm’s stand in favor of a genetically modified food labeling bill.
“We just encourage people to get involved in what they believe in,” she said.
However, said Veasey, the organization does favor a bill that would institute benefit corporations in the state. These are entities whose fiduciary duty includes other goals besides making a profit, such as environmental stewardship. Such legislation “was a natural fit for us,” she said.
NHSBR has been running a large three-day conference for years, but has also been expanding its offering of smaller roundtable discussions and forums throughout the state. It also is a place to network with other companies about ways for their businesses to be more sustainable.
Grappone gets to host some of the meetings at its Bow facilities.
“It’s a chance to show our story, to reach out to like-minded people,” said Osmer. “It’s people who are trying to do the right thing and be a successful business, instead of it strictly being about profitability.”
“It’s a tremendous resource in our journey toward sustainability to share ideas and best practices,” said Lisa Hardin Berghaus, a spokesperson for Monadnock Paper, whether it be ethical policies or greenhouse gas accounting.
Independent Business Council
The Independent Business Council of New Hampshire doesn’t lobby, yet, because the organization, founded by former congressman Frank Guinta, hasn’t completely figured out what it specifically stands for.
“We are only a year old,” said Guinta, who is running in the 1st District Republican primary in an attempt to recapture his old seat, which is held by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. “We are still in startup mode.”
Guinta said he helped found the entity – which is a limited liability company, not a nonprofit organization – with Roger Wilkins, a political consultant who used to work out of Guinta’s Manchester office “to advocate for small business on behalf of small business so that the state will be more competitive.”
Currently, the state is in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to policies that foster small business, he said, and “we really need to be in the top 10.”
The group made a big splash in February 2012 when it listed some 25 businesses on its website, including Dick Anagnost, a Manchester-based developer, and Danais Realty, which is headed by Dick Danais, a former state senator. It currently has some 70 members, Guinta said, from about 18 different economic sectors.
But since its founding, the group has kept a relatively low profile. Its latest forum, featuring state Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket, was by invitation only at the site of Agility Manufacturing, a contract manufacturer in Dover.
“Concord is trending against pro-growth business policies,” said Schroadter, according to the invitation.
The IBC has hired a lobbyist and executive director, Anne Smith, who formerly served on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and heads her own political consulting group, The Policy Agency.
But the group won’t be taking any positions until it releases a study conducted by an economist that is due out in the next few months, said Guinta.
Guinta said he would keep the economist’s name “confidential” until the group releases the “fact-based” document. And until that is done, he couldn’t say how his organization would differ from the BIA, NFIB or other business groups.
Tom Ferrin, co-owner of Agility – which employs 43 people – has nothing but admiration for the BIA, but said it “advocates for larger business and some of that stuff doesn’t really apply to us. We are interested in things like health care and energy and taxes,” he said.
However, Guinta, as a congressman, “represented values that align with us,” he said.
The IBC, Guinta said, won’t be endorsing candidates, even himself.
“I already have a political organization. I don’t need that to run. My political life is different and separate,” he said.