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Tampa Bay's small-business owners weigh in on President Obama's job plan

Local small-business owners took keen interest in the latest attempt out of Washington to put America back to work.

Among the proposals that President Barack Obama announced Thursday:

• Cutting employer payroll taxes in half; for the first time, the government would reduce the matching Social Security payments that employers are required to make.

• Giving employers a tax credit for hiring long-term jobless.

• Continuing for one year a tax break for businesses, allowing them to deduct the full value of new equipment.

The ball is in Congress' court before any part of Obama's jobs plan moves forward. In the meantime, here's a look at what some of those running small businesses in the bay area think of the plan.

Mike Kwasin, owner of the Fine Wine & Spirits Warehouse on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa.

Kwasin, who pays about $3,500 a month in taxes for his 10 workers, supports the payroll tax cut and said it could lead to hiring one person in a few months if business continues at its current pace. The immediate savings could prompt small raises for his workers, he said.

"That helps me immensely," said Kwasin, who in 2010 had his worst year in 27 years of being in business.

Andrew Wright, CEO and managing director of Tampa-based Franklin Street, which handles commercial property insurance, property management, brokerage, loan modifications and capital asset services.

Government incentives will not trigger hiring at the 200-employee firm, and only industry growth will add more jobs, Wright said. He called Obama's proposals "Band-Aid approaches" and said the unemployment extension is creating a bigger system of dependency on government for many Americans. The country prospered with innovation and drive, and both are lacking right now.

"We have a systemic problem with the economy," he said. "We need a work force that is productive and trained for a new economy. We need to end some entitlements."

Jeff Thorson, Tampa division president for William Ryan Homes, a builder with 15 employees in the region and 100 nationally.

High unemployment and low consumer confidence are still weighing on the construction industry, Thorson said. Many companies are being cautious with money and are waiting for the economy to improve.

"Until (Obama) can do something for the buying public to buy houses, the tax cuts don't help," Thorson said. "It does not improve consumer confidence."

William Rizzetta, president of Tampa-based Rizzetta & Co., whose 75 employees manage more than 100 community associations with 32,000 homes in Florida.

The plan may trigger hiring at firms that build bridges and roads, but Obama's plan won't help the housing industry, Rizzetta said.

The government, he said, can try to create an environment that fosters growth, but the entire economy has to improve so people start buying goods and services.

"It's not in any way going to encourage us to hire," he said. "We're driven by supply and demand."

Peter Murphy, president of Tampa's Home Encounter, a full-service real estate firm with 14 full-time employees.

A 50 percent payroll-tax deduction would allow the company, which pays about $81,000 a year in payroll taxes, to hire one worker with a salary of $35,000, Murphy said. None of Obama's other proposals would help the company as much as the tax cut.

"We're throwing money away right now on taxes," Murphy said. "It would definitely help a company our size."

Barry Shevlin, CEO of Vology Data Systems, a hardware products wholesaler based in Oldsmar with about 150 employees.

Shevlin wasn't convinced that any of the key provisions of the Obama plan would make much of a dent in unemployment.

The linchpin proposal of cutting employer contributions to Social Security (payroll taxes) would only result in a maximum savings of $150,000 per company.

"For any one company, that would be the maximum savings and that would probably get eaten up by that same company's increased health care costs next year."

He was equally lukewarm about the notion of giving employers a tax credit for hiring long-term jobless. For his company, Shevlin said, the priority is hiring the right person for the job regardless of his employment status. "I'm not sure we would behave differently if there was an incentive. We're too small to not do that."

Lea Orchard, who owns three Great Clips hair salons in Carrollwood, Lutz and Land O'Lakes.

Orchard embraced the proposed payroll tax cut but said it wouldn't be enough by itself to make her hire more workers. Right now, she said, business is holding steady in two of her locations and very soft in Land O'Lakes.

"To spur hiring for me, I'd need more business. I need more people walking through the door needing a haircut."

Richard Nimphie, president, Suncoast Electric Vehicles, a less than 1-year-old start-up selling electric vehicles in St. Petersburg.

"If the government wants to help entrepreneurs, it should provide incentives for start-ups," he said. "When I started this business, I checked with the city, state and federal governments and found nothing."

Dr. Tommy Lane, who owns a chiropractor practice in Carrollwood with five employees.

The large Social Security tax cut, he said, could help him bring on another person at least part time to help track insurance claims.

"The tax cut is going to be what benefits us the most as far as having money to hire more people," he said. "One of my goals is to (eventually) get another doctor in here so I'm not working 60 hours a week … and can maybe finally take a vacation that I want."

Lane doesn't view over-regulation as the biggest obstacle to job creation. In fact, he's in favor of stronger regulations to keep people without an educational background in his field from setting up shop.

Dave West, chef/owner of Rolling Pin, a kitchen gadget and culinary school with 13 employees in Brandon.

West had dismissed virtually all of Obama's economic program until this one.

"This got my attention because it's supposed to help small business, but I'm still guarded until I read the details," West said. ". . . What will turn things around is government getting out of the way. … I don't want to ever put our business in the position of relying on government to create jobs or meet expenses."

Sandy Fortin, who owns 27 Play-It-Again Sports stores across Florida and employs about 200 people.

"I don't like tax increases or big government, but something really needs to happen because this uncertainty just cannot go on," he said. "I hesitate to hire based on what might be a temporary tax credit, but we need to get cash in more people's hands."

Compiled by Times staff writers Jeff Harrington, Robert Trigaux, Mark Puente and Mark Albright.

Tampa Bay's small-business owners weigh in on President Obama's job plan 09/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 11:24am]
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