Entrepreneurs and Government

By Pam Reeve


Some might ask why The Commonwealth Institute has hosted three programs this year with government (or quasi-government) officials as the speakers.  To me it is obvious that a lack of understanding of government opportunities pervades business leaders. Another result is the lack of contacts with government officials who can help or thwart their businesses.. As an entrepreneur, I often had my head down running my company and didn’t always pay attention to what was going on in the public sector.   I certainly did not have the time or inclination to develop even a limited number of public sector contacts who could help and guide my company when I needed help.  This lack of knowledge and contact can be a costly mistake.   To draw from Ginny Edwards’ list on Bright Hub.com, here are just some of the issues that entrepreneurs and business leaders care about in which government has a role to play:

  • Inflation – primarily controlled by the interest rate policies set by the Federal Reserve.
  • Poor sales – generally attributable to economic conditions which can be the focus of governmental stimulus.
  • Interest rates – a product of the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve.
  • Cost of labor – increased through mandates and legal requirements for employee benefits.
  • Government regulation and red tape – touches many areas of operating a small business, including licensure, certification, and permitting processes.
  • Competition from large businesses - alleviated in part by government programs directed to help small businesses gain traction and compete more effectively, including rewarding a certain percentage of government contracts to companies that qualify as small businesses.
  • Quality of labor - partly attributable to politics directed to funding and supporting educational and training initiatives.
  • Cost and availability of insurance- directly related to the integral role politics plays in determining insurance coverage, benefits, and limits in such areas as health care, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and in a few states, disability insurance.

Underlying these “big picture” topics, business leaders need to know very particular things, such as how to influence regulatory rulings which affect their businesses; how to alter statutes and public budgets to a business advantage; how to access public funds for service and research contracts. This year, TCI began an informational series to enable members and TCI’s Corporate Advisory Board (CAB) to understand the influence of government on their businesses.   Also, TCI wanted  to provide information about the opportunities which members may develop for their firms and their own careers through an understanding of this interface between government and business. Finally, TCI hoped that those attending these sessions would connect with these government officials, build relationships with them so that they become advisors and guides through governmental matters whenever a CAB or member needs help in the future. This initiative is as much about relationship-building as governmental briefings and these forums provide a comfortable setting for making solid connections.

  • Three highly engaging guests have talked at quarterly CAB meetings (after the conclusion of CAB-only business):
  • Former Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Nonnie Burns described the process by which the Commission learns about the impact of its decisions on the marketplace encouraged members to speak up on topics of concern.  State Representative Kay Khan described the legislative process with both the opportunities and limitations it creates.
  • CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, described her efforts to promote this important commercial sector in Massachusetts.

While there are often opportunities to hear government officials at public hearings, panel discussions, and lectures, to our knowledge, this is the only such program in Massachusetts bringing together prominent women in government and businesswomen for informal dialogue and discussion. Our guests have provided texture to the daily workings of this state’s exective and legislative branches. These sessions offer both big picture and fine-grained details so that participants learn how to get connected and use government to their advantage  Attendees have remarked on the openness and candor of these sessions.  Over time, we believe this initiative will prove to be a significant value-added benefit to our members. In keeping with this theme, we are hosting a program on October 21 for any of our members who have considered the federal government as a potential market for their products and services.  I urge you to take a look.  This may represent a new market opportunity for you, or you may come away with some ideas to increase your success.  Our speaker is Lori O’Connor, Principal of Barrier Consulting and  a strategic advisor on obtaining government contracts with quantified success.

The bottom line is that government—whether through regulation, programs or taxes— affects all companies; and for some, it also represents a viable market opportunity.  In these times when our member companies are looking for ways to grow their companies, there is plenty of reason to get to know government better.

p.s.  in case you missed it, President Obama signed a small business lending bill on September 27.  see:  http://www.thestreet.com/story/10872630/small-business-lending-bill-signed.html