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The Weekly Dispatch: Small Business Still Waiting on Obama

The Dispatch scours the Web every Monday to find must-read news that affects you and your business, and what it really means. Here's what I'm reading this week.

1. Obama goes before the Chamber for the first time
The president's recent efforts to reach out to the business community -- like today's first-ever meeting with the Chamber, the tax compromise, overtures in the State of the Union, etc. -- may be easing some of big business's frosty feelings towards the administration, but small business isn't buying in quite yet. Possible policy changes like the push to lower the corporate tax rate, currently at 35 percent, would definitely boost large companies, but smaller firms wouldn't see the same benefits. They're still waiting for a bigger nod to small business.

2. More federal contracts for women-run businesses?
A new requirement adopted by the Small Business Administration will designate some government contracts for businesses owned by women in 83 different industries. The program's backers are hoping that the new deal will push the government towards its goal of giving at least 5 percent of its contracting budget to small firms with female owners. Only firms that are 51 percent owned or controlled by women qualify.

The bad news: The size of the contracts, which are capped at $3 million for services and $5 million for manufacturing, and some industries are left out completely.

3. Why some budding entrepreneurs are pleading for more regulation
Just as Obama amps up his rhetoric to put an end to "dumb" regulations that are hurting businesses, some practitioners of different professions across the country -- from locksmiths to tattoo artists to tree trimmers -- are asking for more rules. These entrepreneurs want to be licensed by the state. On the one hand, licensing can improve safety, increase industry oversight, and give license holders a little more weight in the marketplace. But economists say the big benefit of licensing is for long-time workers who can can use the qualification to beat lower-priced competitors.

Some lawmakers are fighting back against the push for more regulation, saying that it could cause a massive expansion of bureaucracy and prevent poorer workers from getting into new jobs, at a time when the country can least afford it.

4. Does your business have a snow-day policy?
If your business is in a part of the country where heavy snowstorms are common every winter, you really should have a policy in place to let employees know if they're required to come into work in inclement weather, if they can work from the safety of home, or if they'll still get paid if they just can't work at all. In most states, you can legally fire employees who don't come in when the office is open. But what about when it's in everyone's best interest to stay off dangerous roads? If you don't have guidelines already, now's the time to lay out a plan.

5. Surprise: The U.S. is still the No. 1 manufacturer -- for now
Even though it may seem like everything you buy is made in China -- or at least somewhere else -- the U.S. still out-manufactures pretty much every other country by far. Yes, China is No. 2 on the list, but we outpace them by 40 percent. And the country added 136,000 manufacturing jobs in 2010, for the first time since 1997.

So why the increase? American manufacturers have given up on products that don't bring in big profits, like consumer electronics and and toys. Now they focus on expensive wares that require specialized labor, such as computer chips and fighter jets.

Even so, China is catching up, and it's unlikely that the increase in U.S. manufacturing jobs will be sustainable over the long term.

6. Super Bowl advertisers have four words for you: Recession's over, start spending!
Advertisers in yesterday's big game moved away from the dark themes that permeated last year's Super Bowl commercials, and instead delivered a dose of ribald humor and energetic advertising. Companies paid host network Fox an average of $3 million per 30-second commercial, and advertisers optimistically threw millions into their budgets, a move they wouldn't have made without some expectation of return on investment.

(Image courtesy Flickr user jurvetson, CC 2.0)

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