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Mr. President, A Little More 'E' Please

Thom Ruhe

Tuning in for the state of the union (SOTU) address is somewhat of an annual ritual for me. For the past two decades, spanning several presidencies from both parties, I torture myself straining to hear that one word, however challenging it is to say (and spell)--entrepreneur. So I was encouraged when President Obama dropped the "E" bomb early in his 2014 SOTU address, made even more special by the fact that he referenced a woman entrepreneur. And I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm as the twittersphere erupted likewise.

Thanks to the Internet, one had the option to read the President's address as he gave it, and even read ahead during the obligatory applause breaks. So it was that I sped through the text anticipating the deep dive into entrepreneurship he foreshadowed in his opening remarks. Unfortunately that didn't happen; as the only other time he referenced entrepreneurs was when he lumped them in with small business owners--because they are all the same...right? Not really.

In my humble opinion, the President missed a great opportunity to make a stronger economic growth case. He correctly asserted, as Kauffman research details, that the majority of net new job growth is the product of entrepreneurs pursuing startups. So why not lay out a more detailed case for supporting entrepreneurship?

Even in the hyper dysfunctional political arena he has had to endure in his tenure, one of the extremely rare bipartisan accomplishments was passage of the JOBS Act – a piece of legislation that both parties can be proud of passing. The not-so-proud reality however, has been the delay in implementing it and a light application of boot to butt could have been useful.

Clearly one of the President’s high priorities was immigration. He made the social case for immigration reform, but here to, he missed the opportunity to connect this priority to another bipartisan legislative effort that would have direct and immediate impact – the Startup Act 3.0.

Picking up where the JOBS Act left off, the Startup Act would unleash even more economic activity and job creation from our immigrant population. The rationale behind the Startup Act has been vetted by both parties, reviewed and largely supported by economists, and sent to committee on February 13, 2013. Unfortunately, that is where most bills die. We need bipartisan support to revive enthusiasm for this vital piece of legislation, and President Obama could have reinvigorated enthusiasm for it.

The last and I believe most significant opportunity missed was within the discussion of the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare”. Now that they have (finally) worked out the bugs and millions of Americans are receiving the coverage they were once denied, I wonder if Republicans will eventually rue the day that they tagged the ACA Obamacare? I haven’t seen the financial apocalypse that was predicted by its passing, but we shall see how things play out.

startup actBeyond the social argument of ACA however, there is a business case in supporting it. Far too many talented individuals who would be capable of starting new companies, companies that would create desperately needed new jobs, were stuck in jobs that provided healthcare coverage they needed. They may have a talent and passion to start something great, but were tethered to unsatisfying jobs that, due to pre-existing conditions or similar issues, would leave them vulnerable to financial ruin.

Obamacare gives aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to start new companies without the extreme personal risk of not having healthcare coverage. They can work hard to create something new without the overwhelming distraction that their family would be at risk. And that “logic” makes all the sense in the world.

I remain hopeful that our elected officials will someday comprehend the benefit to supporting entrepreneurship at all levels of our society. Democratizing entrepreneurship will unleash our nation’s greatest natural resources – our people. For our part, we will continue to make this case.

On February 12, 2014, we will present our 5th Annual State of Entrepreneurship Address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Kauffman Foundation President and CEO Tom McDonnell will outline the key themes in the Foundation's "America's New Entrepreneurial Growth Agenda" report. This year’s address will include a special panel feature: The "Washington Wonks" pitch the "Policy Pundits." Links to the report and livestream for the event will be posted here:

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