My great-grandfather built that

Sunday, July 22, 2012
Phil Penzel is president of Penzel Construction Co. in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

This past week, President Obama made this statement at an event speech: "If you have a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." It has been argued that this statement has been misconstrued. From my vantage point it is crystal clear what the message is and that there is no other way you can interpret it.

In 1910, when my great-grandfather Linus Penzel went out on a limb and decided to become an employer, he accepted all of the risk associated with it. If he failed, the blame would have all fallen on him.

He performed marketing and follow-up on leads, he bid the projects, he secured bonding, he performed the accounting, he purchased materials, he scheduled the workflow and workers, he paid all of the wages, bills, insurance and he paid all of his taxes. When he didn't get paid, he became the collector. When he purchased tools or equipment, he contributed to someone else's potential success and he contributed to the local economy. He was even lucky enough to survive through the Great Depression and two world wars.

He did all of this while using the dining room table as his desk. Sure he had workers whom he employed along the way, and he had to learn the trade at some point, but he was also the direct conduit to provide food on many families' tables by being their employer. He could have been content with just keeping a small crew employed; however, he chose to grow -- as most people set out to do when they start a business. With that, you now become responsible to more employees and their well-being. If he or any generation afterward had failed, it would all disappear.

Construction is a very cyclical industry that is heavily influenced by the state of the national economy. During downturns, it is difficult time to navigate through this low point in the economy. Questions are asked: "Where will our next project come from?" "How do I keep my family fed or send my kids to college?" "What will the future bring?" Those are questions coming from the employer, not to mention what the employees ask or feel.

I know from my experience that there are good times and bad. But during the bad times, sometimes there are sleepless nights wondering or worrying how to keep it all held together until the good times come back. Neither one government official nor any other human being for that matter will do this for you nor would they take over this responsibility for you. This weight falls squarely on the shoulders of the small business employer.

For the president to say that "someone else made this happen" is an outrageous statement. I suppose if all small business employers decided to shut the doors and turn off the lights, then it would no longer be "someone else made that happen." The hidden message coming from the president is if it is successful, then it is because of our federal government. If it fails, it's an individual's fault. The statement was like a prelude to the entitlement mentality. The real truth is if a business is successful, it is despite the government and all of the many roadblocks it creates for small businesses.

Phil Penzel is the president of Penzel Construction in Jackson.

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