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Small-biz group, federal agency duel over growth

RALEIGH (AP) — Small businesses in North Carolina pushed the Obama administration Tuesday to dump proposed regulations they warn would limit job growth, while the head of the federal small business agency visited the state to highlight policies it says help growth.

The National Federation of Independent Business highlighted its anti-regulation pushback Tuesday by introducing a campaign in North Carolina that tries to put a face on the small businesses that would be affected. The message to be carried to five other election battleground states targets politicians of both parties, NFIB North Carolina state director Gregg Thompson said.

“The goal is to make sure they all know regulations are choking small business,” Thompson said. “We certainly want to protect consumers and the environment, but regulations have gone too far.”

NFIB’s Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations project is launching in states that along with North Carolina are seen as particularly important in next year’s presidential election: Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The project is headed by former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

The NFIB highlighted the issue at Schulz Iron Works Inc., a Raleigh company located next to railroad tracks that shapes iron and steel used in building construction. Co-owner Cindy Schulz said the tough economy has forced the layoffs of a quarter of her workforce, which now numbers three dozen. She said she fears further harm to her business if the federal government requires higher fines for violating worker safety laws rather than allowing companies to first correct identified hazards.

“It seems like their priorities are out of balance,” Schulz said as a worker welding metal a few feet away shot off a small shower of sparks. “We all want all of our people to go home in the same condition that they showed up for work, every day.”

Four miles away at about the same time, the Obama administration’s head of the Small Business Administration defended the government’s policies and highlighted efforts to help them expand. Karen Mills pointed to efforts by President Obama and her agency to review regulations to ensure they weren’t causing unnecessary obstacles to business growth.

Obama this year announced plans to roll back or cut hundreds of regulations, which White House officials have said would save businesses up to $10 billion over the next five years and spur private-sector job growth.

“We’ve actually been ahead of the curve on this issue,” she said after touring the workshop of specialty jeans manufacturer Raleigh Denim with Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and other officials.

Efforts to protect and encourage small businesses come at a time when businesses generally are less optimistic about the future. NFIB’s monthly report on small business optimism across the country had been down for six straight months. The latest NFIB survey showed just 7 percent of owners expect business conditions to be better six months from now.

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index showed smaller companies’ views were mostly unchanged this summer as concerns linger about the long-term financial environment.

Mills was in Raleigh to announce North Carolina had received a $603,000 grant aimed at helping small businesses boost exports over the next year. The state’s share is part of $30 million being awarded across the country by the SBA under federal small-business jobs legislation last year. North Carolina will use the money to give small-and medium-sized companies access to new market research, increase export education, and help companies reach global trade shows.

Mills also promoted Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, which would cut Social Security taxes in half next year for the first $5 million of a company’s payroll and eliminate the tax on any increase in a company’s payroll, up to $50 million.

“We need to give small business like Raleigh Denim more tools and cash in their pocket so that they can go pursue the growth opportunities they have,” Mills said.

The company started in 2007 by Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko produces high-end jeans using North Carolina woven denim and other local materials with vintage stitching made by decades-old sewing machines.

The 16-employee company doubled its sales annually over the past four years, reaching 10,000 pairs of jeans in 2010, the couple said. A pair of jeans costs more than $200 at its workshop store and is sold through retailers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

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