Saddled by crushing debt, high unemployment and a plummeting housing market, the U.S. economy has seen brighter days. But whether the nation’s current leadership has the chops the reverse the slide remains to be seen.
Enter the Top 50 Builders.
Recently, Pool & Spa News sat down with the
decision-makers from five of the country’s most successful
swimming pool construction firms to tap their wellspring of wisdom.
The discussions ranged from corporate taxation to unemployment
benefits to incentives for green technology — all with the
goal of providing lasting prosperity across the land.
Following, in their own words, are excerpts from those conversations.
Paying its bills while balancing the budget has proven a persistent
challenge for the federal government. But is major tax reform the
answer? Can we live without the IRS?
Cecil Fraser, CEO, Swan Pools, Lake Forest, Calif.: The solar industry,
for instance, has tax credits, so why not have tax holidays or tax
incentives for small businesses? There’s a huge number of
U.S. companies capitalized at under $100 million. So if we had a
tax holiday, which is equivalent to these tax credits we have on
solar — do it for 5 years — and under a certain level
of capitalization. You could reduce small business operating costs
by 5 percent just through a reduction in taxes.
We also need to encourage the people who drive business to innovate
and take risks. So let’s reduce the risks and put some money
in their pockets. Companies must be able to buy the new toy, invest
in the new product — do the things that help drive the
business. We should give them an incentive to do that, but only
based on their ability to be successful. I want to give a tax
credit to those who generate tax revenue — the people who
sell things, and build things.
Ken McKenna Jr., president, Tampa Bay Pools, Brandon, Fla.: There should be a flat
tax, and get rid of the IRS altogether. We don’t need it
— it’s ridiculous. How many illegals and others are out
there who float under the system, that don’t pay taxes, and
that the government has to go after? All of them buy things, and
this way they have to pay taxes. I think a national sales tax, or
some kind of flat tax, would be a very good thing.
Steve Ast, vice president of sales and marketing, Shasta Pools & Spas, Phoenix: The U.S. is the most corporately taxed country in the world. It’s no
wonder many of the big corporations strategically put plants
overseas, or set up headquarters in small towns in Switzerland, for
example — it’s only because it reduces their corporate
tax structure so much. And this adds up to billions of dollars. I
think corporate taxes should be reduced, and a national sales tax
could then be introduced. That would stimulate the economy, and you
would start to see businesses bringing back employees, plants, etc.
You can stimulate your way temporarily to job growth, but not for
the long term.
Ron Robertson, owner, Robertson Pools, Coppell, Texas: I think we should
have a national flat tax of 17 percent, and nobody gets a refund.
The nation would actually be much better off, and you could do away
with the IRS completely. For example, we have an education problem
here in Texas, but we also have a Robin Hood plan. Instead, we
should assess a 1-cent sales tax for education on everything
purchased in the state of Texas, across the board. And quit
stealing from rich school districts to fund poor ones. But they
won’t do it, because those people in the poor districts
don’t want to have to pay that extra penny.
Despite the government spending billions to jumpstart public
and private businesses, unemployment remains perilously high. Do
solutions lie in innovation, or perhaps in public works?
Ken McKenna Jr.: During the Great Depression when
FDR came in, the government basically funded construction of the
infrastructure of the United States. They built dams and bridges
and so forth, and a lot of that work needs to be redone today. The
levees in New Orleans were never completely fixed after Katrina;
levees in Northern California need repair; bridges in New York City
and so on. Construction work creates jobs, and that’s one way
to stimulate the economy.
Brett MacNally, partner, Performance Pool & Spa, Woodbury, Minn.: If
you get out of the way of business, it’s been proven time and
again that the jobless rate will drop. Stop regulating, stop
raising taxes and fees, and stop making it more cumbersome to do
business with all of these requirements and regulations. For
instance, nobody should pay over half of their income in taxes (as
some do in Minnesota). And they’re trying to raise taxes on
the top earners again, another 4 percent. Those things make
business owners not want to increase hiring, open another store, or
Cecil Fraser: Why don’t we take a look at
green issues like water conservation, desalination, etc. We lose an
inch of water a week to evaporation, and there are products that
you drop in the water and they help stop evaporation. You could put
an incentive out for that — that’s a green issue. We
need water, and we have a growing population, so we need to drive
things like water reclamation. It’s providing incentives in a
positive direction, in a place we like to go. It’s a
feel-good buy to a lot of people.
On government spending
Lawmakers in Washington have long struggled with a spending problem
that borders on compulsion. So where’s the accountability? Is
privatization the answer?
Ken McKenna Jr.: Every time the government
collects money, they seem to find ways to put it into other things.
It’s similar to the states that have a lottery that goes
toward education. And it does. But what do they do? They cut the
education budget by the same amount the lottery feeds it. So
it’s not extra money for education. They’ve already
proven that they’ve used the Social Security money elsewhere.
So somebody would have to show me specifically where that money
would go into paying down the debt and not be rolled into a regular
budget that they can change where that money goes.
Steve Ast: You want to support your leaders who
voted to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the American people
don’t want to be in either one. I feel like the objective has
gotten blurred. Plus, we’re offering so much foreign aid
elsewhere when, economically, these billions of dollars could go to
such good use in the U.S. Do the American people understand the
objectives behind giving all those dollars away? Where’s the
accountability that it’s even being well-spent?
In addition, we should reconsider health care, the Postal Service,
Social Security, Medicare — all those need to be revamped.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — both should either be privatized
or eliminated. Look at any opportunity where private business can
do better than people in public office. We haven’t managed
Social Security well, so let private companies manage that.
Government just isn’t good at running those kinds of entities.
Brett MacNally: Someone has to have the political
will to say “no” to entitlements. People on
unemployment now are pushing what, two years? Many times
there’s very little reason for them to want to get back into
the job market. There’s this perception out there that
they’re getting this money for free, which isn’t true.
The government is not being measured like the private sector
— by what they accomplish. There’s no accountability.
They can’t be fired — once they’re in,
they’re in for life. The Post Office had a roughly $8 billion
budget shortfall last year, and $5 billion of it was unfunded
pension issues. Are you kidding me? Politicians, I hope, are on the
verge of losing the faith of the electorate. Maybe it’ll take
a debt default. It’s happening all around us — Greece,
Iceland, etc. — and it’s all interconnected.
Cecil Fraser: The first thing I’d do is
declare a permanent freeze on government hiring. And the second
thing I’d do is require that for every new law we enact, we
have to repeal, consolidate or get rid of two, because in that
process you simply get to more pragmatic management of the overall
system. These are things you can do almost by edict.
What Would You Do If You Were President?
I’d focus on job creation as well as tax breaks for small businesses so they’d be able to hire people. I believe small businesses account for about 80 percent of the country’s employment, so [they should be given] more breaks to create more jobs. … Jobs are everything: You get jobs, you get tax revenue, and government can operate.
Pulliam Aquatech Pools
Ft. Worth, Texas
I would reduce government, reduce taxes and spur economic growth. In my opinion, with the trillions of dollars spent on economic stimulus, the government could have given every U.S. citizen $150,000 or more, and the economy would have been rolling. Give small businesses tax breaks instead of taxing us to death, so we can actually hire people. Give the stimulus money to people who are actually working and paying taxes. … Also, if you’re collecting government assistance, you should need to get drug
tested, just like you would for a job — or you get no benefits.
I would implement incentives for banks to provide lending to small businesses, which would in turn create a stronger job market.
Our platform slogan would be “Leadership with Integrity.” We would show America what genuine leadership looks like as an alternative to those that embrace a brand of “political integrity” that is more interested in the next election than how to solve problems. Our ultimate goal is a “trickle-down effect” where common courtesy and common sense, connected with a linchpin of honesty in all encounters, would permeate our society. Our administration would be held to the
highest standards, not only in governing but also in our personal lives. … We would call on all Americans to follow our lead and reclaim the standards and morals that our country’s forefathers exemplified during those humble beginnings. Nothing will change without the majority wanting a better America and being willing to participate in the hard work that begins and ends with individual integrity and accountability.
Let’s increase our nation’s production model and reduce our dependency on imports. I would create “Made in the USA” tax breaks to re-instill the manufacturing arm of our country. Additionally, I would create “Produced in the USA” tax breaks for all domestically provided oil and natural gas. I would tighten up on unemployment and Social Security guidelines to assure that our tax dollars are going to our need-worthy people, not our lazy people.
- Top 50 Builders Chart (PDF)
See the firms who made it on the list this year.
- What Would You Do: Drain-Cover Recall
Top 50 Builders share how they would have addressed a recent and far-reaching product recall.
- What Would You Do: Immigration
How undocumented immigrants should be treated remains a hotly debated topic.