Small companies sound off at Herrera Beutler Roundtable

Owners of local firms air complaints about banks, federal regulators

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, got an earful and then some Tuesday from small business owners who complained about everything from tight-fisted banks to overzealous federal regulators.

It was all part of a roundtable discussion she held in Vancouver to gather comments from small companies about the challenges they face and their ideas for improving the climate for small-scale companies.

More than 40 Southwest Washington business leaders streamed into the Red Cross Community Room at Fort Vancouver to talk to Herrera Beutler.

She was joined by Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee.

Casey Bowman, a spokesman for Herrera Beutler, said she invited Graves to the event because she wanted to give small business owners a chance to speak directly to the top-ranking member of a committee that holds sway over small business legislation.

And those small business owners had plenty to say.

Eric Braunwart, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Columbia Gem House Inc., which cuts and markets gemstones, said he’s struggling to raise capital from banks.

While federal regulations are a small part of the problem, Braunwart said, the bigger problem is that banks say they’re not making enough money and that they don’t want to lend to small companies because it’s “messy” and a “pain.”

Reese Carpenter of Vancouver-based US Testing Equipment -- a supplier of various security devices, including metal detectors and x-rays -- said his company is being audited by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Although he’s done nothing wrong, he said, the agency wants him to prove his company is a small business. Carpenter said a complaint filed by a competitor led to the audit.

The SBA “gave us four days” to give them an answer, Carpenter said.

“Wow,” Herrera Beutler said quietly.

Graves told Carpenter he’d have his staff help him.

‘Leveling that playing field’

Herrera Beutler’s event on Tuesday followed last month’s approval by the House Small Business Committee of a bill she co-sponsored with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

The Small Business Opportunities Act aims to provide more federal contracting opportunities to small businesses, in part, by requiring the U.S. Small Business Administration to be involved early in the process the federal government uses to decide purchases and acquisitions.

Herrera Beutler said the bill is about “cracking that process open, leveling that playing field.”

Herrera Beutler, who took office in January 2011 to represent Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, was scheduled to tour American Paper Converting in Woodland today and to convene a similar roundtable discussion with small business leaders.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com