Biden's experience as vice president is more relevant than his resume. "No matter what the background of Joe Biden was before, that trumps everything else," Grayson says.
Nonetheless, Ryan's small business ties will likely come up during the campaign.
Ryan Inc.'s operations include excavation and building site preparation for commercial and residential construction. It also builds golf courses and creates wetlands. Although it's based in Janesville, much of its work is done elsewhere — it has offices in Elgin, Ill., and Hagerstown, Md., and has worked on projects across the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.
"What we do is move piles of dirt from one place to another" using equipment like bulldozers, says Adam Ryan, company president and Paul Ryan's cousin. Their grandfathers were brothers.
The company has between 100 and 125 full-time employees at its three locations and during the construction season, that number rises to between 300 and 500 workers, Adam Ryan says. Ryan Inc. is small enough that it doesn't make the list of the 40 biggest employers in Rock County, where Janesville is located. But the business is highly regarded in the city of nearly 64,000 because of the connection to the Ryan family, says Vic Grassman, Janesville's director of economic development.
The cousins went to high school together but didn't work together at Ryan Inc. Adam joined the firm after Paul was elected to Congress. Paul Ryan, who earned less than $30,000 at Ryan Inc., helped the company "figure out what kind of work we should be pursuing," Adam says.
"My recollection is that it did lead to projects for us," Adam says. Neither he nor the Romney campaign could provide specifics. Paul Ryan doesn't have an ownership stake in the company, according to his cousin and the campaign.
Like other Republican lawmakers, Paul Ryan has called for the repeal of the health care law that the Supreme Court upheld in June. He's critical of government spending and regulations created under the Obama administration. Although Ryan and Romney have campaigned on issues like health care and regulations that affect small companies, Adam Ryan says his biggest concern as a small business owner is getting more sales in a construction environment that remains weak following the recession.
"The biggest challenge for us is a lack of (real estate) development — people not doing things that require our services," he says.
He says of other issues, "all of that really does pale in comparison to getting more business."
Being part of a big, prominent family in Janesville helped Ryan win his first election to Congress in 1998. The family gained its status from the construction company and today, Ryans are known in the city for being involved in a variety of businesses including concrete and excavation, says Stan Milam, a reporter for the Janesville Gazette. Paul Ryan's father, an attorney, wasn't involved in the construction firm.