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Calvin Goings

On Obamacare, the sequester, immigration reform and being an X-Man


Eight-year-old William Goings thinks his dad is one of the X-Men.

"My son is into comic books," said Calvin Goings. "And when he sees that I'm the administrator for Region X--and he sees the 'X'--he thinks that's the coolest thing ever."

Goings doesn't have any superpowers, but his agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration, has the power to fuel a significant economic engine: Small businesses--with 50 or fewer employees--make up about 96.5 percent of all American businesses, and that number is closer to 98 percent in Idaho.

As regional administrator for Region X, which includes Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, Goings has helped promote nearly $2 billion in SBA loans and facilitated the award of more than $9 billion in federal procurement contracts.

Is it fair to say that the No. 1 concern for many small businesses is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act?

Here are the numbers that matter: 25, 50 and 100.

If you're a small business with fewer than 25 employees--and that's the vast majority of businesses--and you voluntarily offer insurance because it's the right thing to do and to be competitive, there are some new incentives under the ACA.

If you're a small business with 50 or fewer employees, there is absolutely no employer responsibility under the Affordable Care Act.

And [beginning in 2015], some businesses with up to 100 employees will be accessing the health insurance exchanges. And the best analogy I can think of for the exchanges is Costco. If you go to a high-end grocery store and buy a dozen eggs, you pay one price point. If you go to Costco, you pay a much different price point when you buy five dozen eggs. These exchanges are designed to create greater purchasing power.

Won't the level of concern only increase between now and October, when those exchanges are supposed to be ready?

There is a lot of contradictory information out there. You probably shouldn't believe everything you hear from talking heads on cable news. Our top priority right now is to tell employers that if you have fewer than 50 employees, there is no--repeat, no--employer responsibility.

How does the SBA measure success?

As I remember, grimly, what it was like when the Obama administration came into office, we were seeing about 750,000 jobs lost every month. Credit markets were completely frozen and the economy was in a freefall. Fast-forward to today: In the fiscal year which just ended, we had $30 billion in loans to small businesses nationwide and $88 billion in small business procurement contracts. Altogether, through the Recovery Act and the Small Business Jobs Act, we received about $850 million and we turned that into about 150,000 different loans that were worth $73 billion to our economy. That's not a bad return on investment and that kept small business doors open and shelves stocked.

But isn't the sequester putting some of that at risk? What kind of shadow does the sequester cast over your agency?

It's estimated that we could lose $400 [million] to $500 million in small business loans and we could see $1 billion less in government contracts to small businesses.

That's huge.

The sequester is indiscriminate--no rationale. It's a meat-cleaver approach.

But at best, those cuts will drag the economy, and at worst, it could bring the economy to a screeching halt.

The president has said it best: "We don't need any more self-inflicted wounds." For those businesses that are still struggling, the best thing we can do is not make silly, indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that hinder our ability to provide services or loans.

The nation has never come this close before to sweeping immigration reform. In addition to the millions of personal lives that hang in the balance, there must be a great deal at stake for small businesses.

There is huge potential for all of us through a balanced immigration reform, and there are thousands of entrepreneurs poised to fully enter our economy. They'll thrive and grow and put our friends and neighbors back to work in the process.