ST. LOUIS — Secretary of State Jason Kander said he’s watched his wife, Diana, an entrepreneur, spend late nights and early mornings working on her businesses. Kander said he’s seen the same commitment from Missouri small business owners.
“I just know firsthand from watching that so closely that building a successful business is not an easy undertaking,” Kander said. “Starting a business in the first place takes a lot of courage.”
To help ease the challenges small business owners can face, Kander established the Business Outreach Office on his first day as Secretary of State. The purpose of the Business Outreach Office is to form relationships between small businesses and organizations (governmental, private and non-for-profits as well as chambers of commerce).
“It’s really about connecting new entrepreneurs with organizations in their community that can help them avoid the usual pitfalls that confront new business owners and at the same time help them navigate the process of starting a business at the state and local level,” Kander said.
Kander used an example of a person who works in a tire shop wanting to start a business. This person is a tire expert, but knows nothing about running a business. This is where the Business Outreach Office could help, joining the tire expert with an organization to guide him or her in business endeavors.
“It’s the first business they’ve ever owned and while they know tires very well and could be a great asset to the community and really do well, there’s a lot of hurdles that confront new business owners, especially first time business owners,” Kander said.
The Business Outreach Office currently hosts representatives in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield and mid-Missouri. Kander said he noticed the office had made improvements to making the process of starting a business more efficient and less expensive, but he wanted to build on those after he was elected.
Aside from making connections, the office helps business owners maneuver the process and make sense of paperwork.
“My experience being married to an entrepreneur — and being around a lot of entrepreneurs — and talking to a lot of people who started their own businesses is that they want to focus, understandably, on their business,” Kander said. “Time they have to spend on compliance and paperwork takes them away from focusing on their businesses and creating jobs in our community.”
Kander announced his desire to run for reelection in 2016, but did not comment on any specifics that will be made to this new office in his possible second term. He said he is an “aggressive guy” and is focused on what he and his office can do for the time being. He’s focusing on two bills, House bills 916 and 918, which he said are pro-job legislation.
The bipartisan House Bill 918, also known as the “Startups for Soldiers Act,” eliminates fees for Missouri National Guard and active military men and women who want to start businesses in Missouri.
“Our thought was the employer that is most likely to appreciate the extraordinary skills that soldiers bring to a job is an employer who’s been in their shoes, been in their boots, so to speak,” he said. “So, we wanted to encourage more military (members) to start businesses.”
Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said Kander’s office approached him the idea for the bill that he ended up sponsoring. The effort was to reduce the hardship of starting a business while helping them find a place in society.
“We’ve done a lot as far as trying to reduce the red tape in terms of small business, but giving these soldiers who have served our country and fought our wars a little advantage and boost when they come home seems to make perfect sense,” Roorda said.
On May 17, the bill was referred to the Veterans Committee which one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, is the chairman of. Davis described the “Startups for Soldiers Act” not as bipartisan, but non-partisan. Of the 32 co-sponsors, four are Republicans, including Davis. But to him, that fact is irrelevant because of the group of people this bill would serve.
“When you look at anything dealing with veterans and military, we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrat, we’re not African American, we’re not Caucasian, we’re not male-female, we’re Americans,” Davis said. “My desire as the chairman of the Veterans Committee is to work on and pass legislation that helps our military members regardless of their position because it’s not political. That’s what I enjoy about the Veterans Committee. When we walk through those doors you can leave all the politics out there because we’re not there to talk policy or politics, we’re there to protect Americans and our soldiers.”
Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, is the sponsor for HB 916, the “Let Business Focus On Business Act.” The bill states that only certain business fees can be changed every four years. Schupp said this could give business owners an added advantage when financial planning.
“Some of these small businesses struggle with these things and they need to fix costs, so instead of a fee being able to change from this year to the next year and them having to redo their budgets or plan differently, this bill says the fees can only change once every four years,” Schupp said. “It’s those surprises, those things we don’t plan for that can throw us off and make us have to go back to the drawing board and rethink the year’s budget.”
Though neither bill made it to the floor for a vote, the support of these pieces of legislation aren’t going anywhere as the coming session approaches. Kander said he thinks through both bills, small businesses owners will be able to spend more time and resources towards their operations.
“It stays the same in a way that allows business owners to focus on their businesses and not worry about the rules changing,” Kander said. “I think small business owners should be able to focus on their work and not worry about what’s going on in Jefferson City because unpredictability hurts job growth, so we should do what we can to limit that as much as possible.”
Brittany Ruess is a reporter for The Missouri Times and the SEMO Times, and a graduate of Webster University. To contact Brittany, email brittany@themissouritimes, or via Twitter @brittanyruess.