As a former small-business owner and a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, freshman U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper has shown interest in using his position to help small-business owners in Colorado.
Durango residents and small-business owners Jennifer and Jeff Vierling said they are optimistic about the potential changes that Hickenlooper is proposing as senator.
“With Sen. Hickenlooper being on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, that’s going to be a huge asset for our area, specifically for small businesses,” Jennifer Vierling said.
Earlier this week, Hickenlooper met with a group of rural entrepreneurs from Colorado to discuss what can be done on Capitol Hill to help small businesses and small-business owners. The meeting was facilitated by The Wright, a nonprofit based in Colorado invested in bringing together change-makers in rural areas.
“I love hearing your stories,” Hickenlooper said during the panel discussion. “It makes me so proud to live in this state.”
The meeting was filled with small-business owners from across the state, but it centered on a conversation between a panel of four small-business owners from rural Colorado and Hickenlooper.
Vierling was on the panel of small-business owners. She and her husband founded Tailwind Nutrition, a small business in Bayfield that makes powder-based sports nutrition products meant to help athletes with endurance and recovery.
One of the issues Vierling brought up at the panel discussion was how the Small Business Association defines a small businesses. The SBA considers small businesses to be organizations with fewer than 500 employees making up to $37.5 million in revenue.
“When I think of a small business, to me it doesn’t fit how a small-business admin defines a small business,” Vierling said on the panel. “To me, a small business is much smaller.”
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Vierling said she would like to see the definition changed to focus on smaller businesses with about 100 employees. As it is now, smaller businesses end up competing for loans with larger businesses that don’t necessarily need government assistance to receive government-funded grants and loans, she said.
“It’s easier for them to go into the open market and get funding to support what they need to do,” Vierling said in an interview. “Whereas, if you’re looking at the mom and pops and the smaller businesses, it’s much more difficult (for them) to go through that process.”
Vierling also said she would like to see more federal programs aimed at helping small businesses that are in the process of expanding, a phase she called the “valley of death.”
In this phase of expansion, many small businesses don’t have the necessary capital to keep up with their sales or pay to make enough of their product that will help their businesses grow, Vierling said.
“You try to keep up with your cash flow, but then eventually you hit a wall and that’s when you go seek additional funding,” Vierling said. “That may happen through banks, direct loans or through investors, or what have you. You have to start getting really creative. That’s when you hear about entrepreneurs maxing out their credit cards.”
These kinds of grants are available in Colorado at the state level, and many of them were implemented by Hickenlooper when he was governor, Vierling said. However, more federal programs aimed at funding small businesses in the process of expanding would further help small businesses support their local economies.
“That would allow you to leverage that capital and really allow these businesses that are the growth engines for jobs to accelerate their hiring,” Jeff Vierling said. “When you strip it all down, what these programs are really about is supporting hiring ahead of the revenue that’s going to be able to make that sustainable. You kind of just need that jump-start.”
Jennifer Vierling also said that, at the federal level, reducing tariffs to make trade with other countries easier and less expensive would greatly benefit small rural businesses.
At the end of the panel discussion, Hickenlooper said he looked forward to learning more about “how to help truly small businesses.”
Jennifer and Jeff Vierling said they are anxious to see what Hickenlooper will do in the Senate, and specifically on the Senate small-business committee.
“The fact that he is an entrepreneur and has implemented a lot of the state programs that we view as really valuable for accelerating growth for small businesses, I think that experience that he’s going to bring to that committee is going to be really, really extraordinary,” Jennifer Vierling said.
Grace George is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.