Interview with Anthony Smith, NFIB Oregon State Director
Describe the mission of the National Federation of Independent Business and what makes it different from other organizations advocating for small business?
To promote and protect the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses. NFIB is structured differently from many business associations. It is one national organization. There are no state chapters, so we have one national board and each state has its own Leadership Council. I’m the Oregon state director but an employee of the national organization. Also, it is a one member, one vote organization. Each business has the same influence regardless of size.
Describe your Oregon membership, both in terms of number and types of businesses.
In total, we have about 6,000 members in Oregon. Seventy percent have fewer than 10 employees; 90 percent have fewer than 25 employees. Close to 50 percent of members are from rural areas.
How do you stay in touch with your members?
We do an annual member ballot to determine our position on key issues for the year and we do more specific member surveys for issues that arise during sessions. In addition to survey, we have people on the ground talking to members every single day, whether it’s me or membership representatives.
Oregon has imposed a lot of new regulations on businesses in the past three years, from a higher minimum wage to paid sick leave to strict emissions. How have these new mandates affected your members?
Oregon small businesses are afraid of what’s next. It’s about math for them. Business loans are based on a business plan with a known set of inputs and the state keeps changing the inputs on them. Some changes are even retroactive.
What are your current priority issues in Oregon?
Protecting small businesses from tax increases—that means maximizing the state-level benefits of the federal tax cuts while we work nationally to make the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent for pass-through businesses. Paid family and medical leave seem to be a likely proposal next year, which is of great concern to the smallest of small businesses and we’ll be surveying our members soon on other issues we expect to see in 2019, like legislation concerning public employee unions, a state health insurance mandate, and a business consumption tax.
Are there any other issues that stand out as particularly challenging for your members?
While taxes, regulations and health-care costs are always near the top of the list of issues, right now the number 1 concern nationally and in Oregon is finding qualified employees. In Oregon, cap-and-trade is also a key issue. If passed next year, it will lead to higher energy costs from increased public utility prices to higher fuel costs in the supply chain.
You have worked on small business issues throughout the West. What makes operating a small business in Oregon different from operating one in other Western states?
We play more defense in Oregon, Washington and California than some other Western states. It’s hard to pursue proactive legislation to help small businesses in Oregon.
In what ways do you collaborate with other business organizations?
We have natural allies with whom we share members, such as Farm Bureau and Associated General Contractors. We work with them on specific issues. On general business issues such as minimum wages, paid sick time, etc., we, like other associations, work closely with OBI.
How does collaboration between NFIB and OBI benefit small businesses?
I’m one person. I can’t be in every committee meeting, so collaboration is incredibly important.
Specifically, what role would NFIB like to see Oregon Business & Industry take in business advocacy efforts?
OBI’s role as a convener and organizer is essential. OBI needs to be a leader in creating teamwork among the different business lobbyists. Everyone has to trust each other.