Small business owner optimism surged at the end of 2016 when President Donald Trump was elected, according to a survey of members of the National Federation of Independent Business.
More than 7,000 of those members are in Colorado, including Roger Hays, the owner of Premier Employer Services in Englewood. He remembers — what he considers — a less optimistic time, just eight years ago.
"If you would have done me a huge favor and told me in June of 2008, in just a few months, the economy is going to tank, and we're going to have a president in office that's not quite as pro-business, I would have not done what I did," Hays says of starting his company.
The Great Recession began in December 2007, at the end of President George W. Bush's two-year term in the White House. Barack Obama was elected president in November of 2008 and the recession was officially declared over in June of 2009.
Companies come to Hays to help manage payroll, human resource needs, and benefits administration like health insurance. It’s what he calls the “backhouse stuff” that business owners don’t want to worry about, or keep up with.
It was a tough sell for a new company that relied on the stability of other local businesses.
“They were downsizing, they were going out of business,” Hays says. “Companies I had known for 10 or 12 years didn't exist anymore, so they couldn't become customers of ours. And people were kind of in a state of panic, where they didn't want to do anything."
The next few years were tough for him. He says he spent a year working a second job, where he’d wake up, take his daughter to school, and spend the day building Premier Employer Services up. Then he’d “work from about 4:30 at Home Depot to midnight.”
A lobbyist before he started his business, Hays makes sure his clients stay in compliance. He also likes to stay involved in business politics.
"Sometimes I probably need to focus more on this place, and stop going up to the [state] Capitol," Hays says.
He sees himself as somewhat of an expert on things like the Affordable Care Act, which is partly why he's a Trump supporter. For him, the Obama administration made things hard on small businesses and the people he works for.
"There were times where you felt as if every time you turned around, they were coming after businesses,” Hays says. “And not in a way to help them or educate them or make things better, but to just crush them under a huge rock.”
That rock, he says, are the regulations passed by Obama administration. According to the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, more than 500 economically significant regulations during Barack Obama’s time in office. Economically significant regulations are seen as likely to have an annual influence of $100 million or more, or a material adverse effect on the economy as determined by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
For comparison, Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each published about 350 of these regulations.
The National Small Business Association found that nearly 60 percent of small business owners find federal regulation, versus local and state, the most burdensome. Something Hays would heartily agree with.
When regulations like the Affordable Care Act were implemented, Hays says small business owners didn’t know what to expect. He saw some confusion, fear and panic among businesses because they thought, “OK, this is the end of us, this thing is going to put us out of business."
The Kaiser Family Foundation told the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the ACA has had little effect on employer plans. Premiums have gone up on individual plans, but less than 10 percent of those covered get health coverage on the market outside of their job.
Hays is thankful that a lot of the fear from the business community during the previous administration didn’t come true. But he sees the same fears again with the new administration.
“There's a lot of people running around and screaming ‘the sky is falling,’ and you know, ‘we're doomed,’” Hays says. “Ten years from now we're going to look back on it and say, ‘Well, we survived didn't we? We got through that, it wasn't so bad.’"
As Hays points out, it was the same way with the Affordable Care Act. There were some great things and not so great things about Obamacare.
Under the ACA, Gallup found that the number of people without health insurance is nearly the lowest on record. Colorado’s uninsured rate dropped to less than 7 percent under the national health law. Hays thinks that’s one of the great things, but he’s seen signs it keeps business from growing as they try to avoid the threshold that requires them to provide health insurance for businesses over 50 employees.
"We had business owners say, ‘I'm not doing this. No way. I'm going to lay these five people off. I'm really sorry, but I'm not going to pay the extra money.’ And they got rid of staff,” Hays says.
Employers that Hays has worked for are still avoiding that threshold today, he says.
Despite the Affordable Care Act and other business regulations, job growth was steady for more than six years in a row under Obama — the longest streak on record — with 15 million jobs added since the bottom of the Great Recession.
GOP plans to replace the ACA with their own law include one version passed by the House, the American Health Care Act, and another under consideration by Senate Republicans, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
While Hays prefers the House plan, because of its earlier deadlines for things like reversing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, he sees both as an improvement. He also believes people will stay insured. And he likes that the Republican plans won't tax companies and individuals who don't have health insurance, like the current health law does.
"I'm a big believer in, if you don't want to do something, and it doesn't really necessarily negatively affect people around you, you have every right not to do that," Hays says.
That’s why he voted for President Donald Trump. He says he sees him as business guy, someone who will look out for him and his clients. The promises of less government regulation from Trump, has Hays, and other small business owners hopeful.
This is part of a series of stories about people who stand to be most affected, either positively or negatively, by new Trump administration policies. Have a story to tell? Comment below, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or reach us via our Connect page. We’re listening.
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Editor's note: This story has been updated with a correction. It originally misstated when the Great Recession began, and when Barack Obama took office as president.