WASHINGTON - Raymond J. Keating, chief economist for the Small Business Survival Committee (SBSC), has compiled what he believes are the top 10 pluses for small business in 2003:

1. Pro-growth tax cuts. "The tax cut passed in May was a huge positive for entrepreneurship and small business," he stated. "Lower personal income tax rates gave a boost to the bottom line of most businesses, as 91 percent pay personal rather than corporate income taxes. Also, the reduction in the capital gains tax enhanced incentives for investing and risk taking."

2. Faster economic growth. The economy is now growing at a faster pace - a rate of 8.2 percent in the third quarter - which helps provide new and expanded business opportunities.

3. Job creation on the rise. "The household employment survey - which is far more comprehensive, and better captures entrepreneurship and employment by startups and other small businesses than does the established employer survey - shows that just between September and November, employment rose by more than 1 million," proclaimed Keating.

4. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). The Medicare prescription drug bill included a provision that Keating said will make health coverage more affordable for small businesses. HSAs - formerly known as medical savings accounts (MSAs) - are now permanent, available to most consumers, and have been "unshackled from unwarranted rules and restrictions," he commented.

5. Free trade accords. On Sept. 3, President Bush signed free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. "Free and expanding international trade expands opportunities for small, dynamic U.S. businesses," Keating stated.

6. Repeal of steel tariffs. "In early December, the Bush Administration wisely decided to reverse course and eliminate the steel tariffs it had imposed in March 2002," said Keating. "The higher tariffs had raised costs for small and medium-sized companies in the U.S. that use steel, and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs."

7. Robust stock market. Year to date as of Dec. 16, the Dow Jones was up 21 percent, the Nasdaq had risen by 44 percent, and the S&P 500 had increased by 22 percent. This was good news for current and retirement savings of owners and employees.

8. Low interest rates. The cost to borrow funds is a major issue for small business. "The prime rate fell to 4 percent in July 2003 and has remained there since," Keating noted. "The last time the prime rate was this low was in April 1959."

9. Defeating costly climate measures. In 2003, some climate measures were defeated, which is "a plus for everyone concerned about the costs of energy and economic growth," he said. "While the climate science behind such initiatives is at best dubious, the economics is unmistakably bad, as energy costs would skyrocket and economic growth would slow."

10. Winning the war. "Something that concerns all Americans, including small business owners and their employees, is that our nation is secure and protected," stated Keating.

Publication date: 12/29/2003