Frank Ciotola, owner of Da Vinci Ristorante in Columbus, has a message for his peers.
"I always tell other small business owners that we manage so many aspects of our business like payroll or accounts payable, and managing the legislative issues and taking time to do that is every bit as important as managing those other aspects of your business," he says. "I feel government is definitely in our business, and if we don't stay involved and tuned in to what's going on, it inevitably affects our bottom line."
The National Federation of Independent Business/Ohio is making an effort to help by coordinating Area Action Councils -- groups of small business owners who will meet regularly to learn more about legislative and legal issues and to contact legislators about ongoing issues.
"Essentially, we want to educate our members the best we can about small business issues. They're limited because they can't give up a whole day to come here," says Chad Wilson, the local NFIB's new assistant state director for member activism.
The whole idea, he says, is to educate the organization's 36,000 members and encourage them to be more active in promoting a small business agenda.
Wilson and state director Roger Geiger are traveling throughout Ohio to set up the councils. Members are expected to invest their time and money in the group; they pay $250 through NFIB membership dues, political fund-raising contributions or membership development.
Ciotola is chair of the Columbus Area Action Council, which in April discussed concerns such as tax issues and Ohio Supreme Court rulings.
Andy Thompson, chair of the Marietta Area Action Council and owner of Bird Watchers Digest, says since small businesses typically don't have a legal department, it's hard to understand legal and legislative actions.
"Sometimes we feel like, on the legislative and certainly on the legal front, small business owners have two and maybe three hands tied around their backs," Thompson says. "Through the effective efforts of NFIB at both the state and federal level, we can see to it that a positive environment -- or at least a tolerable environment -- exists for small businesses who are, in fact, the engine for job growth for the entire country."
How to reach: Chad Wilson, NFIB/Ohio, (614) 221-4107; Frank Ciotola, owner of Da Vinci Ristorante, (614) 451-5147; Andy Thompson, Bird Watchers Digest, (740) 373-5285
Cut your online time
If you've tried surfing the Web to find out about state taxes, licensing or other business-related information, you know you practically have to be an expert in government to stumble upon what you needed.
Now, the state's making it easier with a new front page, www.ohio.gov. Instead of having to know exactly which state agency has the answers you need, you can start at www.ohio.gov and search by topic.
Choose the business link, then drill down into different categories: doing business with the state, e-commerce, employer laws and regulations, licensing and permits, starting a business, and taxes and fees. In a few clicks, you'll find the information you need and a connection with the appropriate state agency. Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN Magazine.