Main Street is feeling more optimistic post-election, with shop owners hoping a Donald Trump presidency ushers in four years of business-friendly policies. The recent increase in positive sentiment, according to a report released by the National Federation of Independent Business, is due in part to expectations of sales gains and improvement in the outlook for business conditions.
With the forecast bright on the eve of a New Year, here's what seems to lie ahead for small business owners.
Trump ran on promises of deregulation, and the bump in optimism post-election signals that Main Street is banking on him to follow through. Many companies cheered the recent halting of the Department of Labor's Overtime Rule days before it was set to kick in on Dec. 1, thanks to a decision from a federal judge in Texas. Advocacy groups are hoping for more labor deregulation in the year to come.
"Our number-one issue for the past two years is the joint employer rule," says Matthew Haller, senior vice president of Government Relations and Public Affairs at the International Franchise Association. The rule stems from a decision made by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015 that found a sanitation company called Browning-Ferris Industries and its subcontractor are joint employers of workers. It sent ripple effects down the franchising industry.
The industry preference is for parent companies and franchised locations to maintain their independence. "It will take some sort of legislative action to actually solve the changes that have been made under the Obama Labor Board. We want Congress to restore certainty to labor law as it relates to the definition of joint employment," says Haller.
Other regulations on the radar for small business include the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan Rule, which the NFIB has lobbied against, since it claims the rule will create higher costs for small companies as a result of expensive costs placed on state's electricity producers.
CHANGES TO OBAMACARE
One of the pillars of Trump's campaign was a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. At times the candidate even said that he make a repeal a first-day priority.
In a post-election interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said acting on the law quickly was still a priority but stopped short of specifying what pieces of the legislation would be first to go. The President-elect did, however, single out two provisions he planned on keeping, one of which prohibits insurers from denying individuals coverage based on preexisting conditions and another that allows young people to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26.
Of concern for smaller businesses is the employer mandate. It is frequently cited by Obamacare critics as an impediment to job growth, as it requires companies with 50 or more full-time employees to offer coverage or face penalties of up to $2,000 per worker per year for failing to comply. Other points of contention include the law's myriad reporting requirements and premium increases.
"The real challenge is that health-care costs were going up significantly before this [law] was implemented so scrapping it and going back to the way things were before isn't a solution," says Molly Day, vice president of public affairs for the National Small Business Association, a nonpartisan advocacy group. "We have to have a real alternative."
THE FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE REMAINS UNCHANGED
The past year was an important one for the movement to raise wages for low-wage workers, with 25 states, cities and counties raising pay for nearly 12 million workers, according to the advocacy group the National Employment Law Project. However, the federal minimum wage remains unchanged at $7.25 an hour. While Trump signaled openness to raising the federal minimum to $10 an hour, changes seem unlikely under fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who is Trump's pick for labor secretary and who opposes efforts to raise wages.
A Republican-controlled Congress won't help either.
"We expect more action at the state and local level," says Laura Huizar, staff attorney and minimum wage expert at NELP. "There was a lot of progress made in 2016, and the movement continues to build momentum. We already know of 13 campaigns to raise the wage in 2017."
Generally, advocacy groups are feeling positive heading into the New Year and welcoming of the new administration.
"Many states have higher minimum wages, and generally wages are going up due to an improving economy," Haller says. "Our members' sentiment is one of increased optimism as a result of the election and going into an environment where there will not be more federal regulations and uncertainty layered on top of them."