Rick Murray, who became chief executive officer of the Arizona Small Business Association in February of 2012, has moved the organization into the 21st Century, helping ASBA get engaged in social media so it can become even more engaged with its membership. Az Business caught up with Murray to talk about small business in Arizona.
What the biggest issue facing small business owners in Arizona?
Staying relevant. In this world of technology, trying to find out what the small business customer’s needs are is a constantly moving target. That’s how it’s always been, but the landscape of those barriers have changed. How does a small business market itself with social media? There are so many different ways to get the word out and it can be a very complicated and expensive proposition, but it can also be a very inexpensive proposition, depending on how well they know their market. ASBA offers programs to help small business owners with marketing and understanding social media.
Has the impact of the economic downturn eased?
One of our major pain points is access to capital for small businesses. We’ve seen small business lending start to improve since the economic downturn. Banks are seeing a lot more applications come in, but they have higher standards they have to comply with in order to give a loan. As small business owners, it’s even more important to have solid credit in order to have access to those traditional funding sources. There is also a new industry of alternative financing that is growing in popularity. We teach our business not to look at the interest percentage, but at the cost of the money and the return on investment. So if you take out a high-percentage loan that you’re going to pay back in five years, the cost of money is going to be less than if you took 12 years to pay it off.
How has the increasing number of incubators in Arizona impacted small business development?
The small business climate in Arizona, so incubators help that higher-than-normal concentration of start-ups create a successful pathway. As small business owners, we go into business with all this excitement and enthusiasm and six months later, it becomes more than just your passion for selling that product or service. You also have to be a human resources specialist, a purchasing specialist, a leasing agent and at the same time try to make payroll every month. Being a part of an incubator helps ease some of those somewhat overwhelming burdens.
What is ASBA’s biggest accomplishments during your tenure?
Last year, when we looked at the transaction privilege tax, Arizona was one of only four states that did not have a statewide mechanism to pay your sales tax. In Arizona, we had about 60 different taxing entities. In the Valley, every city had its own taxing entity. It created a logistical nightmare for those businesses that had clients in several different communities. We found that some of our small businesses were being asked to prove their taxes from three, four or five communities every year. Imagine the regulatory burden that created for a community. So getting tax reform passed was a major win for us and it makes Arizona a much better place to do business.
What are ASBA’s legislative policy priorities?
Things have been relatively quiet because it’s an election year, but our priorities were really more about economic development opportunities. Economic development opportunities that bring jobs to Arizona are good for small business.
How do economic wins like landing Apple affect small business?
The impact is exponential. The Intels of the world and the Apples of the world support small business. They are members of ASBA because all of their vendors are small businesses, so they have a keen interest in making sure that the small business climate is healthy and vibrant in the communities where they do business. By having a healthy small business climate, it helps those big companies coming into Arizona because they know the services will be available to support the functions they need to do business.