Obama Wants to Know: What Barriers Does Your Business Face?

President Obama used today's small business economic forum in Cleveland as a way to sell the initiatives and budget cuts he's put on the table, emphasize the importance of small business to the overall economy, and listen to the entrepreneurs on the ground who are frustrated by frozen credit markets.

His remarks and the forum itself are a huge nod to the small business community, which has felt largely ignored even as the president has made big overtures to large corporations and big business leaders, particularly after the heavily Republican 112th Congress took office in January. The stop is also significant because it gives Obama face time in a swing state that he very narrowly won in 2008. So far, he's visited Ohio 12 times during his presidency.

"Small businesses like yours help drive America's economic growth," Obama said at the Winning the Future Forum. "They're the cornerstones of America's progress, the idea that if you've got a dream and you've got the work ethic to see it through, you can succeed."

The president and top economic advisor Austan Goolsbee reminded business leaders at the forum of the moves they've already made to help small business -- including tax cuts made as part of the deal at the end of last year that allow companies to write off 100 percent investments in equipment, an extension of capital gains tax cuts, and increased investment in new energy projects in the proposed 2012 budget.

The president also offered attendees and people who wrote into a chat on whitehouse.gov a chance to tell him what they are seeing on the ground. "We're here to hear from you directly," Obama said.

The biggest concerns out there? The same thing we've been hearing about for a couple years: frozen credit markets. James in Addison, TX told the president that "With the virtual death of local banking, it's next to impossible today to get bank loans for anything other than fixed assets. "

Other suggestions and concerns put on the table by participants included implementing tax breaks for angel investors, finding mentors and bigger partners for small businesses, public/private partnerships, and finding ways that people with long careers can help the next generation thrive in the workforce.

Today's forum will be the first of several meetings with smaller entrepreneurs. Small Business Administration head Karen Mills announced plans for roundtable meetings with entrepreneurs to discuss how the government can help spur investment into innovation and small business. The sessions will take place in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Boulder, Colorado; Durham, North Carolina; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; and Silicon Valley, California.

If you had been in break-out sessions with the president today, what would you have told him are your biggest concerns, for your own business, and for the greater economy? What moves would you suggest he make?

Flickr photo courtesy of jurvetson, CC 2.0