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Friday, January 13, 2012

Wendy Rosen: From Businesswoman and Arts Advocate to Politician


This is a repost of a story that I wrote for Forbes.com

Washington needs some right-brain thinkers to develop creative ways for this country to get its people back to work and keep Main Street vibrant. That’s the pitch from Wendy Rosen: successful businesswoman, arts advocate, small business advocate, and now a candidate for Congress.

Rosen, 57, is running as a Democrat for the U.S. House seat in Maryland’s First Congressional District. The suburban Baltimore resident and “recovering Republican” has long grown weary of the way small businesses, which she defines as fewer than 20 employees, are treated, particularly during this economic recession.

“What we know for sure is that 78 percent of all new jobs created in this country are created by family owned businesses on Main Street and startups,” she says. “Yet less than 1 percent of all small business administration funding goes to businesses of that size. In the financial crisis, Congress rushed to fix all the big businesses, the Wall Street banks, the insurance companies, but Main Street businesses are still in crisis.”

Rosen is best known as founder of the Rosen Group, which on the surface is a publishing and tradeshow company for artists and crafts persons who work in many mediums. (This is how I’ve known Rosen, though we’ve never met, since her tradeshows attracts many fine jewelry designers.) However, the company’s main purpose is as an economic development organization for artists who are also small business owners. “What we’re really doing is helping individual artists and craft retailers succeed in business, which stimulates local, state, regional and even national economies,” she says on the Rosen Group website.

And a lot of that work is political and advocacy oriented. She spends about three days each month on Capitol Hill when Congress is in session advocating for these small business owners and for American made goods and services. She is extremely active with organizing events, through social media platforms like facebook, by providing business seminars and workshops, and publishing pertinent business information to help these creative persons.

In the past few years, she says she has grown increasingly frustrated with the way foreign products are fraudulently sold as American-made goods because of lax law enforcement; how foreign-made products are replacing American-made goods; and how small businesses are being left behind during this economic recession and slow recovery.

“I know people who have reduced the size of their payroll by 50 percent,” she says. “Many have not taken a paycheck for up to four years. Something has got to change quickly for our little Main Streets across America before vacancy signs appear everywhere.”

Her frustration has grown to disenchantment with the Republican Party, which she says only supports big business and eventually led to her decision to run for Congress as a Democrat.

“I always thought the Republican Party supported small business and included small business in that definition (of being pro-business),” she says. “I think the Democratic Party is more receptive to creative ideas needed to revitalize our smallest businesses. The Republican Party represents the defense industry and the insurance industry. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.”

She added that, unlike most elected officials in Washington, she has experience as a job creator and that her goals for small business would be better served as an insider than as an advocate.

“I really need to be able to be inside and not outside in order to accomplish these things,” she says. “There are very few people who understand job creation. I created 50,000 jobs over the past 30 years. I know what it takes to be competitive in manufacturing, entrepreneurship and in the revitalization of Main Street. Some solutions are obvious and many don’t require legislation or money. They only require an executive order.”

One such order would force foreign manufacturers to place an indelible marking on products that shows country of origin. Right now, they only use stickers that are easily removed by anyone at any point in the distribution chain or the aftermarket.

“That one executive order could create 50,000 jobs overnight,” she says. “Because there are people who want to buy American and they are being defrauded.”

One of her frequent targets is The Smithsonian Institute, whose museum shops sell American-themed products made in foreign countries.

She is looking for a creative plan and support from the federal government to help small-scale manufacturers grow their businesses. She sees deregulation as only helping large companies. She also wants to see the small business redefined. Right now, she says a small business is defined by having fewer than 100 employees.

“The rest of us define a small business as less than 20 employees,” she says. “That’s a lie to voters and constituents. And it doesn’t matter what party you’re associated with.”

She adds, “Most legislators come from a left brain, linear point of view. It’s time for right brain people to go to Congress. They can use creative ways to come up with solutions. I would not want to be in a sinking boat with left-brain people. I want to be on that boat with creative problem solvers.”

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