DeGette, Pelosi get earful from women business owners at forum

A group of women business leaders painted a grim portrait of the economic climate and didn’t sound confident in the ability of Congress to fix things anytime soon at a forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette on Tuesday in Denver. The event’s headliner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, acknowledged the public is fed up with what appears to be a broken government and a slack economy but told the women not to despair.

“I don’t know if there’s anything more optimistic anyone can do than start a small business,” said Pelosi from the stage at a panel discussion on jobs and the economy. “Perhaps getting married, maybe that would compare,” she added to appreciative laughter from an invited audience.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was the first woman to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives, speaks to a crowd on Aug. 30 at St. Cajetan’s church on the Auraria campus in Denver. Along with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, Pelosi convened a discussion about women and jobs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

DeGette convened the panel of six women business owners at Metropolitan State College in order to hear concerns about jobs and the economy as Congress prepares to return from a month-long recess.

“We came to listen, not to speak,” said Pelosi before turning over the microphones to the women. The two lawmakers took notes for nearly an hour and heard a litany of concerns about excessive government regulation, difficulty with tax credits and other incentives, and problems securing capital to run businesses already strained by a lingering recession.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at a roundtable discussion on women and jobs on Aug. 30 at the Auraria campus in Denver as U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, left, and Kristy Schloss, president and CEO of Schloss Engineered Equipment, right, look on.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Winning the future isn’t about winning it by competing the old way, it’s about winning it by shaping it ourselves,” said Pelosi after the discussion. “Our country has always been a country of optimism and hope,” she added.

But any optimism on the panel was tempered by a brutal business climate that shows no sign of bouncing back.

“We need to have the confidence, and my daughter needs to have the confidence, that we can grow jobs, and that’s very difficult right now because I don’t feel too terribly optimistic,” said Gail Lindley, owner of the Denver Bookbinding Company.

The Highlands-based firm has been run by women for nearly 40 years but has seen its workforce drop from a high of 45 employees to just 11 these days. Noting that the digital printing revolution had already cut her company’s business by 70 percent in the last decade, Lindley said the recent recession has only made things worse.

An invited crowd of about 200 listens to a forum on women and the economy featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette at Metropolitan State College in Denver on Aug. 30.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We have one request,” she said. “Do no more harm.”

Burdensome regulations hit small businesses harder, Lindley said, a point echoed by others on the panel.

Diana Gadison, who runs the Early Success Academy — a provider of “child care, not day care, because the day can take care of itself,” she cracked — said overlapping and conflicting rules and regulations can make it hard to conduct business. She said running up against a tangle of federal, state and local red tape can be frustrating “until you are so confused you just say, ‘Forget it, and I don’t want to do this.’”

DeGette, the ranking Democrat on a congressional subcommittee devoted to the issue, said she hopes her colleagues can tackle regulatory reform without getting bogged down in partisan wrangling.

Lynn Gangone, dean of the University of Denver Women’s College, left, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi smile at comments made by Selena Dunham, principal at consulting firm Classique LLC, during a forum on women and the economy on Aug. 30 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I don’t know any politician who really favors having excessive, over-burdensome regulations,” she said. “But the devil’s in the details how we do that, making sure we don’t eliminate regulations that protect health and well-being in the name of streamlining things.”

Gadison said the government needs to do a better job communicating what’s available to business owners and also needs to deliver incentives when businesses can use them.

“I need more people to show me what I need to do to get a tax credit,” she said and added, “I would prefer not to have the tax credit at the end of the year,” noting that the credit does her little good when she has to pay out salaries on time.

“It’s still very difficult to access capital, and it’s becoming even more difficult in this economic environment,” said Lynn Gangone, dean of the University of Denver Women’s College. Several of the business owners agreed and asked the lawmakers to help ease access, including lifting restrictions on certain lending institutions.

A panel of seven Colorado women business owners and experts talks about the economy at a forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi inside the historic St. Cajetan’s church on the Auraria campus in Denver on Aug. 30.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

DeGette said it’s a difficult problem, particularly for women- and minority-owned businesses, and told a familiar story to illustrate her point.

When she first hung out her shingle as a lawyer, she said, she tried to borrow $5,000 for office equipment and similar needs. Bankers told her she could get the loan if she deposited the same amount as collateral. “And I thought,” she said as the audience laughed, “if I had $5,000, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Pelosi said the country needs to pay more attention to providing affordable childcare so women aren’t held back. She also pointed to federal health care legislation as a boost to the economy as portions of the law take effect.

As for battling the partisan gridlock that has seen the federal government come close to shutting down this year, Pelosi said Democrats have to let the public know where the party stands.

“We just have to make a much better connection and prove our genuineness, our sincerity, to the American people about why we are there,” she said.

Reviewing the discussion, DeGette vowed to take what she’d heard back to Washington. “We have to show the American people we can have some proactive solutions for job creation,” she said. (The next day President Barack Obama announced he plans to address a joint session of Congress this week with his jobs proposal.)

After the panel concluded, Lindley gave the discussion a mixed review but underlined that it was still just a discussion.

“This hasn’t even scratched the surface,” she said. “There needs to be a lot more work, there needs to be serious work. Words are easy.”


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