Dulles businessman advocate for private firms

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer

David Guernsey, the new chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has a personal connection to his role as spokesman for privately owned companies.

“It’s not just a job,” says the founder of Dulles-based Guernsey Office Products. “I have an emotional connection.  My family has been well served by the opportunity to go into business.”

Guernsey started his company 40 years ago with what Dan Danner, the president and CEO of NFIB, calls “a few dollars and a stapler.” Today, Guernsey Office Products has 8,000 accounts and about 300 employees. Its revenues place it among the top 1 percent of office-supply companies nationwide.

Guernsey became chairman of the board of NFIB on Jan. 1. In that role, he has been trying to ensure that today’s entrepreneurs have the same opportunity to succeed that he did. “As the political winds blow, that can be harder, or even impossible,” he says. “But if we don’t nurture that opportunity, we lose something very important.”

Fostering an atmosphere in “which to form capital and start a business,” as Guernsey puts it, is the mission of the NFIB. The organization, which has about 7,000 members in Virginia and 350,000 nationwide, represents companies ranging in size from as few as 10 employees to as many as 1,500. The only hard and fast rule for membership is that a business must be privately held.

The NFIB seeks to influence legislation at all levels of government. In the commonwealth, its top priority these days is to secure passage of a constitutional amendment protecting personal property rights from abuse of the government’s power of eminent domain, says state director Nicole Riley.

On the national level, the NFIB is keeping its eye on some 4,300 regulations that are “in the pipeline,” Guernsey says. Its highest-profile effort is its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, the federal health-care-reform law.
The law mandates that, beginning next year, employers provide a specific level of health insurance for workers. The NFIB argues that this requirement infringes on individual rights. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled to be heard this month with a decision expected in June.

“Small business’s concern is that this law will increase costs and burdens significantly and disproportionately [compared with] the larger business community,” Guernsey says.

Obviously, the economy has been tough for the past few years, but conditions are improving, “albeit very slowly and very slightly,” Guernsey says. Until consumer demand revives, however, NFIB members “will have to limp along as best they can.
“We will work our way out of it,” though, says the chairman. “To succeed in business is fundamentally American.” 

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