An Oregon farmer made more sense in her recent address to a local food gathering than we've heard in any one speech in a long time.
Karla Chambers, who with her husband owns Stahlbush Island Farms in the Willamette Valley, gave an enthusiastic discourse on entrepreneurship, job creation and the primary threat facing those businesses: crushing tax burdens.
She has the academic and real-world experience to back up her claims. Chambers has a graduate degree in ag economics and has served as director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She and her husband, Bill, have built Stahlbush Island Farms into a diverse operation that grows and processes fruit and vegetables from 5,000 acres, with 250 full-time workers and a substantial seasonal workforce.
The business pays 47 percent of its profits in federal and state income taxes. That leaves only 53 cents of every dollar to pay the owners and invest in opportunities to expand the operation and potentially hire more workers. And waiting in the wings for many small businesses, particularly farms and agri-businesses, are estate tax bills that can cripple or kill family concerns.
"Taxes and job creation go hand-in-hand," Chambers said. "There's more focus on eliminating jobs than in creating them in Oregon today."
The same can be said of Washington, California and, to a much lesser extent, Idaho. The federal and state governments increasingly look to balance their budgets on the backs of those who create economic activity.
Many Americans who draw a paycheck don't have an appreciation for the challenges that face business owners. Entrepreneurs assume all of the risks and share the rewards with employees, lenders and the ever more demanding, nonequity partners in government. In tough times, their hold is made more tenuous by onerous tax and regulatory policies.
The fact is, the owners of small- and medium-sized businesses who are casually described these days as "wealthy" are not a static segment of the population. Their fortunes rise and fall with the success of their businesses. Even the most astute entrepreneur can lose everything if business conditions change. Membership in the club is in near-constant flux.
In the Northwest, state governments pride themselves on the lengths they go to protect the habitat of endangered species. No effort is too great for salmon, spotted owls or wolves. No similar effort is expended, however, to protect the habitat of the golden goose: the family farms, markets, service businesses and small manufacturers that fuel the economy and constitute a large amount of the tax base.
These companies are every bit as endangered as any fish, fowl or four-legged predator. Given sensible tax and regulatory policies, small businesses can grow in size and number. As they recover, so will the economy.