As Barb Wells looked around the room, everyone's eyes focused on her. She turned and pleaded, "What am I going to?"
Wells, of Charles Wells Photography in Oviedo, is one of the many small business owners who faces troubling times in the current economy. Not only could her business go into foreclosure, she could lose her home too. She said she feels like she has to start completely over and doesn't know what to do.
"The economy is so bad, it does not matter if you are a man or woman," she said. "Being in Florida for so long and with recent struggles I start to wonder, 'Can it be better somewhere else?'"
Like Wells, the business world is at a crossroad. Many owners face tough decisions that could leave their businesses hanging in the balance. Stores are closing and many small business owners are feeling the squeeze. Despite many economists forecasting that the recession is over, the market has yet to fully recover and many people are still struggling, particularly small businesses.
In an effort to assist women such as Wells, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., along with representatives from the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce, hosted a roundtable meeting on June 3, with less than a dozen women who own small businesses in Central Florida to discuss local and national resources available to help them.
The women bounced ideas around, including a proposal to form a group or union for small businesses that receive government contracts, seeing such a move as a way for them to compete with larger companies.
Betsy Franceschini, vice president of Accurate Traffic Counts Inc., said as a small business owner competing for contracts against larger firms, she appreciated Kosmas' commitment to small businesses and her understanding of how the struggling economy has impacted them.
"Small businesses are going through a very difficult time," she said. "[This meeting] gives us energy to come together to support each other and to survive."
Kosmas, who is up for re-election this year, said she spent 36 years competing in the tough world of small business, working in real estate, restaurants and even a car wash before winning a seat in Congress.
"I have always been self-employed my entire life," she said.
But now that she is a member of Congress, Kosmas said her focus is on supporting small businesses in Central Florida, particularly women-owned.
Lisa Ordonex, of NR Electronics, is an electronics components distributor and feels so strongly about what Kosmas is doing in Washington to help small business owners, she dropped everything to attend the meeting even though she was familiar with topics at hand.
"It is so important what she is doing," she said.
Despite the slow economy, there have not been any layoffs at NR, and Ordonex feels lucky to not have been hit as hard as others.
"We are debt-free, but we are very lucky," she said. "Despite our slowdown in government contracts, we are still needed because there are electronics components in almost everything these days."
Small businesses play a big role in the economy at large, producing more than half of the nonfarm private gross domestic product, and there are more than 29 million small businesses in the nation — 6.5 million of which are owned by women — and less than half of those last more than five years. About 1.6 million of those businesses are in Florida, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
To help them last longer, Kosmas said she has introduced numerous bills to provide tax relief to small businesses, to cut taxes for entrepreneurs and to help afford health insurance in many different forms.
One such tax credit bill that she has helped pass through the House and into the Senate will provide businesses the opportunity to deduct up to $20,000 for business startup costs, as opposed to the standard $5,000.
Kosmas said that these bills are an effort to stabilize an uncertain economy.
In May, Kosmas introduced the Early-Stage Business Investment and Incubation Act, which will create a national incubator grant program to provide grants for incubators that support the development of early-stage small businesses, according to her website.
"I want to share what we are doing in Washington to focus on assisting small businesses," she said.