Small Business Takes Center Stage at Republican Convention

One small-business owner is getting the spotlight at the Republican National Convention.
August 29, 2012

This election season, the candidates have tussled over who's the bigger champion of small business—so perhaps it's fitting that a small business-owner took the stage Tuesday to champion one of them.

Introducing a Family Business

Jack Gilchrist, owner of New Hampshire's Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, told the delegates at the Republican National Convention about how his father borrowed against the family's home some 30 years ago to buy the machinery needed to start the business.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte introduced the silver-haired Gilchrist as "the face of small business in America."

“Three generations of his family have used their own hands to build Gilchrist Metal Fabricating,” Ayotte told the crowd of some 20,000 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “It’s a true family business." (Gilchrist's son—the third generation—also works for the family firm.)

She said Gilchrist is exactly the type of person who would benefit from presidential nominee Mitt Romney's initiatives to “get the federal government out of … small business” as well as “fight to lower and simplify taxes,” and “eliminate job-killing red tape.”

Jumping on the Republican Platform

Gilchrist became a minor celebrity about seven weeks ago when he appeared in a pro-Romney video spot called "These hands," referring to an out-of-context quote from President Barack Obama: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else did that.” In the spot, Gilchrist asks “My father’s hands didn’t build this company? My hands didn’t build this company? My son’s hands aren’t building this company? …Through hard work and a little bit of luck, we built this business. Why are you demonizing us for it?” (Romney stopped by Gilchrist Metals during a swing through New Hampshire in January.)

An Election Theme

"We built it," of course, has become a major Republican convention theme. But New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper reported that Gilchrist has taken advantage of millions of dollars of government loans and contracts. Among them: A U.S. Small Business Administration loan in the late 1980s, totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000, plus matching funds from the federally-funded New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center. In 1999, the company received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority. In 2008, Gilchrist Metal received a $5,600 Coast Guard contract, followed last year by two U.S. Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000.

Gilchrist said of the benefits: “I’m not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government. As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting some of my tax money back. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ Shame on me if I didn’t use what’s available.”

A Small Business Owner in the Spotlight 

Gilchrist arrived in Tampa Monday and started preparing. He told the Nashua Telegraph he spent most of the time prepping for primetime, learning where to stand and which cameras to look at.

He said his one condition for speaking was that he be allowed to "be himself."

“I don’t want to be told what to say, or how to dress, or stuff like that,” Gilchrist said.

Onstage, he told delegates of his company: "We employ about 40 people, most of them families. Though we have enjoyed success, we face more global pressure every day."

He quoted former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca: "Lead, follow or get out of the way," accusing Obama of not leading and, referring to complicated federal regulations, not getting out of the way.

"This administration is killing us out there," Gilchrist said in his speech. "We need a leader who understands the entire spectrum of business and industry."

Photo credit: Getty Images