Voice of experience should not be silenced

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image courtesy of April Scarlett, idea mapper.

(originally published in Dec. 30,2012 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, KS)

It’s ironic.  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback wants Kansas to become one of the most hospitable states in the nation for business, but one of the steps he’s taking to do this might spell the end of a proven program that helps business start-ups get off to the right start and offers continuing assistance into the future.  

Earlier this week, I met and visited with Karmi Green at the Prairie Enterprise Project here in Great Bend.  She provides free, confidential business coaching to those starting a new business or tweaking an existing business.

I asked her what she would do if I came into her office and told her I wanted to start a business selling baby blankets.  I was just threw an off-the cuff idea out.  It was the first thing that popped into my head.  Much to my surprise, she smiled and said okay, and began.  

The first thing she would do after visiting and getting to know the client for a while, helping them to define why they wanted to start a business in the first place, would be to have them create a “Back of the envelope business plan.”  We started working through it and as we broke down different aspects of what it would take, I was able to envision a real and viable business.  This could really work, if I really wanted to do it.  If I did, she would have been with me every step of the way from the initial spark to the day I open the doors and on into the future.  Again, all of this absolutely free with confidentiality assured.

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The new year is a time for reflecting and making resolutions.  When I see something I did was a smart move and made my life better, I don’t decide to quit doing it.  As a community, we need to reflect.   As I listened to Green tell about the people she helped as an Enterprise facilitator these past 10 years, I had to wonder why we would allow this project to simply fade away–which it will if a new source of funding isn’t found in the next year.  

What’s this?  I thought it was free, you say.  Well, it is for the business person using her services, but Green still has to eat.  She still has to put gas in her car and needs a phone and a heated office for obvious reasons.  The money comes from somewhere, and that’s been from taxpayers via city and county governments, and through the sale of tax credits via the state government.  It’s a non-profit funded in large part by tax dollars.  Your’s and mine. It’s an expenditure I approve of, like free and public education and the presence of police and fire department personnel.  The reason is, to keep these things funded, people need to have jobs that create the tax dollars that pay for these things, and this program is one really good way of creating jobs.  

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Brownback’s elimination of the sale of tax credits swung a life-threatening blow to the Prairie Enterprise Project.  Funds from the sale of these tax credits make the budget, and the lack of them breaks it.  By charging unearned income tax, the state could provide tax credits for sale.  This will allow the state to eliminate unearned income tax, which in theory would make the state more attractive for starting or locating an existing business.  That means, if you own a business, you don’t pay state income tax on the income derived from the business.  If you only work for the business, you earn your income, and therefore you pay state income tax on it.   

Follow the train of logic here, and it becomes apparent that everyone who resides in Kansas should be grabbing the backs of envelopes and whipping out napkins at local diners and jotting down business plans like mad until they hit on the right one.  If only one percent of them turned out to be a viable plan, think of the jobs that could be created!  I hate to admit it, but I can begin to understand Brownback’s thinking here.  

People who own a business will benefit most from this taxing structure-as long as it is a good and viable business.  For the vast majority of us, it doesn’t pay to own a business that doesn’t pay but offers a tax break.  And that is why we need to keep the Prairie Enterprise Project in business.  We don’t need to have a lot of people enamoured with an idea, but lacking business savvy and experience  creating a bunch of failed businesses.  All that does is stoke the fires of those with “Can’t do” attitudes and cause paralysis among those who have failed but could succeed if they give it another try.  Green is very happy to report she has helped hundreds of people determine their idea simply wouldn’t work the way they first thought it would–saving them thousands of dollars and their pride to boot.   

We as a community financially support projects like the new ballpark or whatever will come of the convention center, so the comparatively small amount of money is not the issue here.  Who knows, some of the businesses that may be born out of the project could grow to use a convention center, or at the very least, sponsor a baseball team.

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