Small Business

What Main Street had to say about Obama's speech

Politics of family leave

President Barack Obama focused heavily on the "new economy" and hit on worker protections right out of the gate in his final State of the Union address, while touting the spirit of American entrepreneurship.

The speech came at a time when worker rights and benefits have been a key focus on the 2016 campaign trail, and cities and states are taking matters like paid leave and wage increases into their own hands.

"This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who've figured out that doing right by their workers, ends up being good for their shareholders, their customers and their communities, so that we can spread those best practices across America," Obama told the nation Tuesday night, after mentioning plans to continue advocating for equal paid, paid leave and a higher minimum wage.

President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016.
Evan Vucci | Pool | Reuters

But while entrepreneurship and small business were mentioned frequently, not all advocates on Main Street were in agreement with what the president had to say.

"Small businesses have been loudly and clearly opposed to many of the very policies he featured in his speech this evening, including the health-care law, his energy regulations and mandatorily higher labor costs," said Dan Danner, president and CEO of the conservative National Federation of Independent Business.

Obama did tout his landmark Affordable Care Act and its ability to provide health insurance for workers who lose their jobs or choose to take the leap into entrepreneurship. For the nonpartisan National Small Business Association, the comments fell flat.

"Our last health-care survey in November 2015 showed the health-care problem is far from fixed for small businesses, with 90 percent seeing increases. One in five had premium increases of 20 percent or more — these costs aren't coming down," said Molly Day, vice president of public affairs for the group.

It's something franchisee Dave Gronewoller, who has nine Golden Corral franchises across the Carolinas and Florida, has seen firsthand.

"For the first time ever, I had to charge some of my employees part of their insurance premiums," Gronewoller said. "Our premiums went up 101 percent, while the health of our individuals has gone up every year. For 20 years, our employees never paid a dime for it.

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However, one positive was the president's push to end partisan divisions in Congress, calling it "one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better." Uncertainty over Washington politics is one thing that continues to affect Main Street's optimism, and can hold back willingness to create jobs.

"We were happy to hear him focus on political reform," said Day. "We hear from members every day how frustrated they are that the system isn't working."