A business owner tour of America, with echoes of Buffett

Business owners are twice as likely to be focused on top-line growth as on cost-cutting: UBS

If you read the headlines about the global economy and listen to politicians, you'd probably think business owners across the U.S. are fretting. But have you actually talked to them? That's precisely what I've been doing.

In recent weeks, I have been on a "listening tour" across our country, talking to owners of many successful small- and medium-sized businesses. They tell a very different story about the economic outlook than the recent volatility in global stock markets and negative rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail suggest.

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From Boston to Dayton to Indianapolis to San Francisco, business owners are optimistic about the future. They believe our economic policies, regulatory system and tax laws enable them to succeed. They expect that, as it has historically, our economy will continue to grow.

While gaps in economic growth remain, job creation is high and there are signs that wages are starting to rise. Gas prices have fallen along with the price of oil, giving consumers an effective tax cut.

These views are confirmed by UBS's own research. A January survey of private business owners participating in our Industry Leader Network showed they have confidence in the economy. Respondents said they are twice as likely to be focused on top-line growth as on cost-cutting (40 percent vs. 18 percent), and 70 percent said market volatility has not changed their business strategy.

With large public companies garnering much of the public spotlight, we sometimes forget how vital entrepreneurial and private businesses are to our economy.

While many of the "sky-is-falling" headlines spring from concerns over short-term fluctuations, long-term sustainable growth in the United States remains promising, with an economic model and financial system that encourage and support developing businesses.

For example, U.S. Small Business Administration data shows that businesses with 500 or fewer employees account for half of all non-farm, private economic activity and half of private-sector employment. Small businesses have created 64 percent of our net new jobs over the last 15 years and have a patent-per-employee rate 16 times that of large companies.

The business owners I'm speaking with are also very concerned about the political rhetoric. They see policy proposals from across the spectrum that could potentially reduce the capital available for small-business investment, make lending harder, limit trade or otherwise fundamentally change the structural underpinnings of our strong financial system. They are looking for leadership and commitment that the next administration will not choose winners and losers by fiat; won't restrict innovation, competition and job creation; and will not subordinate their interests to those of larger corporations.

The discussions also reaffirm my view of the necessary role the financial industry plays in maintaining a strong economy and supporting opportunity and job creation. Financial institutions provide liquidity, capital and business acumen to enable today's entrepreneurs and business owners to pursue their goals.

In particular, financial advisors in towns and cities across the country help clients grow their businesses, provide retirement plans for their employees and guide them through exiting or transferring their company when the time comes. They are as close to Main Street as the business owners they serve, and bear no resemblance to the Gordon Gekkos described during the ongoing political "cage matches." With all the potential challenges to GDP, employment and wage growth we may face, it is as important as ever that this valuable work continue unimpeded.

An end to snappy slogans

The U.S. financial system may not be perfect, but it is better than any other in existence. So we should challenge the cacophony of competing monologues that denigrate our institutions and good people who do their best for their clients every day. Instead, we should aim for authentic, responsible discourse and sound policy that look to build on the monetary, tax, economic and regulatory systems that keep our economy strong and growing.

On any given day, disruptions from around the world — the global impact of conflict across the Middle East, slow growth and deflationary threats within Europe, surprise moves to impose negative rates in Japan, free-falling energy prices or the decision by China to devalue the Yuan — roil our securities markets and plant seeds of doubt. Meanwhile, opportunistic political commentary spotlights any uncertainty, casting blame and proposing draconian moves that are far from solutions and only compound fears.

All the noise is masking the fact that the U.S. economy undeniably remains strong, flexible and the prime driver of global growth. It may not be a snappy slogan, but maintaining our financial system and its support of entrepreneurship and innovation is key to continuing our strong economic performance.

— By Tom Naratil, president UBS Americas and UBS Wealth Management Americas

Join America's most influential entrepreneurs, such as Kevin O'Leary of "Shark Tank" and Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar, in person at iCONIC in Seattle on April 5, 2016.