As GOP presidential hopefuls take the stage in Wednesday night's CNBC Republican debate in Colorado, Main Street will be watching. From wages to health-care reform and taxes, small business owners are hoping to see key issues addressed.
The debate comes at a time when sentiment among America's small businesses is arguably holding steady, on a climb following the recession. The last reading from the conservative-leaning lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Business saw optimism edge slightly higher to 96.1. However, some like Lisa Hendrickson aren't convinced of a full recovery.
"The economy doesn't seem to be moving at a clip it needs to be, and I don't think we have people who are very clear on having a plan about how we take away barriers to economic growth, to support small businesses," said Hendrickson, who runs a small pricing strategy firm in Manhattan called Spark City.
For Doug Picatti, senior vice president of operations at VitalWare, which offers a cloud-based technology solutions for the health-care industry, taxes and regulatory hurdles are among those barriers.
"The biggest issues for us are regulations and taxation — it's important for us to be able to grow and work within a system that allows us to be successful," Picatti said.
Health-care costs are also looming large, ahead of Jan. 1, when employers with 50 to 99 workers will be responsible for offering insurance for their workers. Right now, the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act applies only to businesses with 100 or more full-time workers.
"It's always a big concern, with how much you pay and how much employees want" health-care coverage, said Jamie Pritscher, co-founder of Chicago-based nuphoriq, a marketing firm that focuses on catering businesses. "It's hard to be a small business and not be able to provide all of that, but at the same time with costs, when you're open with employees about that they truly understand."
These concerns echo a recent poll from the NFIB, which found health-care and taxes among the top-three worries for Main Street. The survey found a third of business owners said the federal budget was their top economic problem, followed by rising health-care costs with 23 percent and reforming the federal tax code (18 percent).
Wages are another issue many are grappling with, as 29 states and Washington, D.C., now have wages above the stalled federal floor of $7.25 an hour. It's an issue Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, a small business credit card processor, has much experience with after announcing he was hiking his workers' pay to a new minimum of $70,000 a year over a two-year period. The move resulted in criticism and even a lawsuit from his brother, but he stands by his decision and thinks others should follow suit, if they can bear the costs.
"We are in a time where we've experienced all-time highs in corporate profits, and all time-highs in compensation at the top," Price said. "But the middle class is really being squeezed. ... I think it's troubling that wages are so stagnant."
But for Sophia Tong, president of Washington, D.C.-based T and T Consulting Services, the issue that is most important is simply that government itself stays open for business. Ninety-five percent of her business is in government contracts.
"We never know if funding will be available — we'd like to see the government keep functioning," Tong said.
Watch CNBC's "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" tonight. The debate will feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy. Coverage begins at 5pm E.T.