By Tom Still
MADISON – By now, we all know John Kerry can grow a great crop of hair, Howard Dean possesses a blood-curdling scream, and John Edwards is the campaign trail’s heartthrob. But with a week to go before the Wisconsin primary, what do we know about how the Democratic candidates for president view entrepreneurship and innovation in the 21st century economy?
We know a lot more than the sometimes superficial coverage of the campaign would suggest.
Each of the major survivors in the Democratic race (Kerry, Dean, Edwards and Wesley Clark) have offered ideas about how to stimulate the “knowledge-based” economy, to develop well-paying jobs, and to support current and aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s a summary by candidate:
John Kerry: The junior senator from Massachusetts is the ranking member on the Senate’s Committee Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which has impressed the National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship. “(Kerry) understands the links between economic prosperity and the success of new and growing businesses,” the independent group said. Kerry’s core program for small business is the Small Business Opportunity Fund, a $175-million endeavor to expand business loan volume, support micro-enterprise and provide gap financing for new businesses. On the tax side, Kerry would allow immediate expensing of small business technology purchases, simplify employment tax regulations, and provide tax credits for purchases of energy-efficient equipment. Kerry has also called for expansion of a manufacturing skills training program, and development of a health-care plan targeted at small businesses.
Howard Dean: The former Vermont governor has proposed creating a Small Business Capital Corp. within the Small Business Administration. This entity would function in much the same way as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, issuing securities with government status. Dean predicts the SBCC would create $1 billion in loans in three years and spawn a secondary market for small business loans, similar to the markets for home mortgages. Dean also wants to help small businesses with one of their No. 1 business costs – health insurance – through subsidies and participation in a universal health benefits program. Dean also supports a $100 billion Fund to Restore America, which would stimulate job growth through investments in homeland security and a mix of infrastructure repair and development projects.
John Edwards: Like Kerry, Sen. Edwards hails from a state (North Carolina) that has seen more than its share of high-tech development – and lost more than its share of manufacturing jobs. He has stressed the need for fiscal discipline in Washington, where deficits are once again on the rise, and eliminating tax breaks that he describes as “corporate welfare.” His ideas for job creation include a 10 percent tax cut for firms that keep jobs and facilities in the United States, and fostering Economic Revitalization Zones in communities hit by foreign competition. These zones would be eligible for tax breaks and other government help. Edwards has also proposed a Rural Economic Advancement Challenge Fund, called REACH, to stimulate rural development by bringing more venture capital and management expertise to rural America.
Wesley Clark: The former NATO commander isn’t confined to talking about foreign policy and national security. He would eliminate tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and has proposed a $10,000 job creation tax credit for firms that add jobs at home. Like Kerry, he would expand the Manufacturing Extension Program for skills training, and allow small and medium-sized businesses to expense up to $150,000 in new investments. He has stressed federal deficit control and repeal of the Bush Administration tax cuts. Clark would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program.
Gone, but not forgotten: Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt favored expanding SBA programs, such as micro-loans and small business development centers. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman proposed tax credits for technology-related investments and the creation of NextTech, a research-and-development consortium focused on advanced manufacturing technologies.
Wisconsin voters on Feb. 17 and in the November general election should look beyond what the presidential candidates say they would do to save existing jobs. What those candidates would do to spur the growth of new jobs in the nation’s entrepreneurial economy is more important in the long haul.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.