Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ariz. business leaders liked Obama's focus

For many in the business community, the real stars of President Barack Obama's address Tuesday were jobs and the economy.

Asked for reaction to the State of the Union address, some said the president struck the right notes when he pledged to spur more investment in technology and to nurture home-grown innovation. Others were wary about vague proposals to simplify business taxes: It's something that politicians often promise but rarely accomplish, several said. - Jahna Berry

From a business perspective, what did you think of the State of the Union speech?

Barry Broome, president and CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council: "The fact that the president is moving to the center on his message is helpful."

The president's changes to health care and the financial sector caused uncertainty and "a lot of inactivity in the capital markets and on corporate balance sheets."

Steven Zylstra, Arizona Technology Council: "The president's proposals on encouraging innovation to improve competitiveness, improving all education . . . and maintaining our leadership and investments in research and development and technology were all welcome."

Raoul Encinas, board member, Southwest Job Network: "The president struck the right tones in moving us from the tragedy of Tucson towards working together, and working on job creation. Leaders should role-model the right behaviors, whether in corporate America or Washington."

Joe Higgins, Tucson small-business owner, Sports Buzz Haircuts: "The uncertainty coming . . . over the past two years has rippled through my business and a number of the small-business owners I talk with day in and day out. I don't think our politicians are aware of just how hard it is to make it in small business."

What did you think about the proposal to simplify the corporate-tax code?

Broome: "Simplify the corporate-tax code sounds good, but what does it really mean? I think reducing corporate-tax rates are probably really going to be more helpful than simplification."

Zylstra: "Short of tax accountants and lawyers, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not think the U.S. tax code isn't too complicated. Leonardo da Vinci said it best: 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.' "

Encinas: "If simplifying means reducing 1000-page bills so the average person can understand them, that's a positive. Anything that gets U.S. companies to invest their capital with less ambiguity will also help."

Higgins: "Any ideas or plans to simplify the process of doing business are welcomed in my small business. . . . The more I can keep in my business and invest in technology or expansion, the better off the local economy will be."

What do you think about the call for investments in clean energy, infrastructure and wireless technology?

Broome: "I think his comments about clean energy being this generation's Sputnik is right on. There are not a lot of reasons for us to be importing 70 percent of our petroleum from regions in the world that aren't very pro-democracy and pro-America."

Zylstra: "These are all areas that are ripe for investment and critical to our future competitiveness. The question is, how do you pay for it in light of the almost $1.5 trillion federal deficit? Here's where we need to apply the nation's innovative juices."

Encinas: "As someone whose career was shaped by technology, I am both nervous and excited about what the future holds. Along with those investments, further progress in education . . . are going to be necessary for long-term gains."

Higgins: "I'm skeptical because we heard this story before coming out of Washington. The stimulus plan was supposed to build up our infrastructure, hire private firms to improve our roads and bridges. That didn't seem to happen."

Generally, what about the speech stood out to you?

Broome: "The good news is that smart leaders self-correct. I think the fact the president is moving to a conciliatory tone is a self-correction. I didn't hear a lot of class warfare in there this time. I didn't hear a lot of us versus them."

Zylstra: "The speech had a very good tone of collaboration and emphasized that we must work together. The time is now. Like all such speeches, it lacked specificity on how to go about accomplishing many of the tasks at hand."

Encinas: "President Obama mentioning that we have to 'outinnovate, outeducate, and outbuild the rest of the world' is a great reminder and a challenge that you have to get out there every day and prove yourself."

Higgins: "I'm encouraged to hear the president talk about America's place in the future of the world. I think the times and the challenges are a wake-up call to start focusing our priorities on the ideas that made America great."

by Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic January 26, 2011

Ariz. business leaders liked Obama's focus

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