We DIDN’T Build It By Ourselves

One of the speakers scheduled for the Republican National Convention is Cheryl Valenzuala. Now most people wouldn’t have heard of her, and if a storm-shortened convention knocks her from the roster due to time constraints, she will probably remain largely anonymous.

Her claim to fame and the reason she’s scheduled to speak at the even is that she’s the owner of a business that her husband Eli and she started in their garage. The company they founded was an upholstery company, and they started it in order to make some extra income in order to help pay for their child’s autism treatments. The business has grown into a company that now makes vests for baseball umpires, and anti-ballistic vests for the Israeli military. The Valenzualas currently employ about forty workers and the company makes about 4.5 million dollars in revenue every year.

The story of their achievement is a warm and fuzzy, heartfelt one. And it appears to go along with the Republican mantra attacking President Obama’s campaign statement that business owners didn’t build their businesses entirely on their own. Of course, what he meant by his statement is true. If for no other reason, the use of normal tax benefits and loopholes, the use of public roads to move goods and supplies, tax-funded education that supplies competent and skilled workers, etc., all add to the ability of business owners to succeed without them having to do all of those things alone.

But there’s often more than those general amenities and advantages available to, and used, by all. There is a myriad of government aid out there to help businesses succeed, and even though an entrepreneur may work long hours and take many risks to do what they do, almost all of them use these services of local, state, and federal government agencies. As seen in an article in National Small Business Week, the Valenzuala’s success was not made entirely on their own either:

For First State Manufacturing, Inc., the dream began in 1998 with a man, a woman, and a sewing machine in yes, you guessed it, a garage in Milford, Del. Today, that dream has become First State Manufacturing (FSM), a thriving business employing more than 40 technicians working in a new 66,000 square-foot facility funded by a $1.8 million U.S. Small Business Administration 504 loan.

Eli Valenzuela learned the upholstery trade from a correspondence course he took in the Army; he applied what he learned while working at Dover Air Force Base upholstering enormous C-5 Galaxy airlifters. With help from SCORE and the Delaware Small Business Development Center, Eli and his wife Cheryl composed a business plan, and opened FSM in their garage. With an initial $20,000 SBA-guaranteed loan they secured larger contracts and also became certified in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.

In 2001 FSM was ready to grow again, with a $96,500 SBA-guaranteed loan to modernize and expand inventory. After the 9/11 tragedy and its economic fallout, FSM obtained a $65,800 SBA disaster loan to maintain their business and employees until revenues returned. FSM revenue doubled from 2007 to 2010, increasing from $2.2 million annual revenue to $4.5 million.

There are other cases where entrepreneurs tapped by the Romney campaign to repeat its “We Built It” message has relied on the government for help with their business.

Dennis Sollmann, the owner of Sollmann Electric Company, appeared in a Romney web ad criticizing the president for his “you didn’t build that” line. It turns out that Mr. Sollmann did millions of dollars worth of work for the government. Also, and probably most famously, Jack Gilchrist, the owner of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, who starred in another Romney ad, received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds, as well as sub-contracts in 2008 from the U.S. Navy that helped his business to not only stay afloat, but to grow.

The Valenzuala’s business was built by using millions of dollars of government–public–loan money. What this does, of course, is to prove President Obama’s July comments to be totally correct, even when disingenuously taken out of context in order to manufacture faux controversy. Few, if any, entrepreneurs have built their businesses completely on their own in this country for decades, if ever.

If Cheryl Valenzuala wants to stand in front of the nation and claim that she succeeded entirely on her own, and that the rest of us didn’t contribute to that success in any way, then she has that right. But she will be lying if she does say those things. To tell the real story of how her success was financed and supported by public funds will prove the President’s point. So let’s be honest, Republicans, and take the President’s statement in the context in which it was meant. We all need each other, we all work together, and we have to stop letting politics and political lies diminish those facts. And we don’t need Cheryl Valenzuala or any other entrepreneur to lie about their achievements in order support erroneous campaign rhetoric.

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