Soccer moms. NASCAR dads.
During election season, it seems like we're not even people anymore - just voting blocks the candidates are carving up or making promises to.
This year, it's small businesses. Almost every issue gets debated through this lens. Will the health care law hurt small businesses or make it easier for them to offer benefits their workers need? Will tax hikes fall on wealthy millionaires, or decimate small business bottom lines? Above all else, how can we generate more small business jobs?
But amazingly, for all the rhetoric ("Who built that," anyone?) and purported concern for American small business, no one seems to be talking about the biggest immediate threat to smaller firms - the trillion dollar "sequestration" budget cuts set to begin on January 2.
On the one hand, it's not that surprising - the sequestration debate has focused on the defense portion of the cuts and when people think defense cuts they probably envision corporate giants like Lockheed or Boeing. Most don't realize that 70 cents out of every military purchasing dollar goes to the small and midsized suppliers that make components those big prime contractors assemble. A complex piece of hardware like a fighter jet or a submarine will have thousands of suppliers and sub-contractors all around the country. Two-thirds of defense manufacturing jobs are in these supply chain firms.
But on the other hand, it's a dangerous oversight. Because it's really these small businesses on the chopping block if sequestration isn't stopped. Economists predict the sequester will destroy over 2.14 million American jobs, but few appreciate how many of these lost jobs will be at the very small businesses that President Obama describes as "the engines of our economy." According to the latest studies, sequestration will destroy over 30,000 small business jobs in New York state. In California, it's over 100,000.
It's also the worst possible strategy for cutting budgets - mechanical across-the-board reductions instead of targeted cuts focused on things we don't need or budget busters we simply can't afford. This makes it a threat to every company up and down the entire supply chain, even healthy firms working on critical technologies like mine, CPI Aerostructures in Edgewood, N.Y.
Business is good at CPI - we recently expanded our facilities and employ 200 people, manufacturing aircraft components like wing assemblies, engine housings, and surface skins. We serve some of the highest value programs in our military - including retrofits that add cutting-edge capabilities and years of service life to older aircraft like the A-10 Warthog, as well as providing production parts to the Blackhawk helicopter and the E-2D Hawkeye. But because sequestration cuts aren't guided by any strategy or reason, it mindlessly puts everything at risk, even the smartest programs like these. And while CPI is strong and will find a way to weather cuts, in such tough times that won't be true for other firms still struggling to get back on their feet after the system shock of the Great Recession.
That's an economic and a human tragedy, but it's also a problem for America's security. The experienced workers at companies like CPI - our single greatest asset - possess highly specialized skills and capabilities needed to manufacture complex failure-is-not-an-option equipment for our military. This expertise has been built up through decades of R&D investment and irreplaceable training on the job. The same is true throughout the entire supply chain and for many technologies, there may be only a few firms that can do the job - if they go under, the loss could send shockwaves through American military capabilities.
Right now, America troops go into battle with a healthy high-tech lead over any potential rival. But if we don't keep innovating, that gap will close. Congressman Hanna has warned that sequestration could hit the Rome Air Force research lab upstate. That hurts New York, but more fundamentally shutting down such cutting edge facilities hurts our future military capabilities, especially if piled on top of losses in high-tech industry. That's why Defense Secretary Panetta predicts that sequestration would "generate significant operational risks" and lead to "unacceptable risk in future combat operations."
There are a lot of reasons to replace sequestration with a more responsible approach to budgeting and America's long-term deficit concerns. But of course in this political season the overriding issue remains economic recovery and jobs. And as both parties clamor for the mantle of "friend to small business," the problem of sequestration is the elephant in the budgetary room. It's the biggest danger out there for smaller firms like mine.
Want to help small business? Don't give us talking points; give us a solution to sequestration.
Gregg Aramanda is vice president of CPI Aero of Edgewood, which is engaged in the contract production of structural aircraft parts principally for the U.S. Air Force and other branches of the U.S. armed forces, either as a prime contractor or as a subcontractor for other defense prime contractors.