Volume 15, Number 1 – March 2018

Legislative and Policy Roundup: 2018 Edition

Back in the day, we used to produce regular policy and legislative updates that provided our perspectives on the latest ideas gaining traction on Capitol Hill and in the Administration.   As Washington bogged down in partisan bickering, our energies flagged.   Tracking new bills seemed unnecessary if nothing was going to get passed or enacted.

I’ve decided to skip the complaining and cynicism in this edition of EntreWorks Insights by providing a new and improvedJ look at what’s happening with policy and legislation related to economic development, innovation, technology policy, and the like.   I’m still somewhat skeptical about the prospects for major new legislation, but it is always a useful exercise to assess what ideas and proposals are gaining traction on Capitol Hill and beyond.   When the political logjam breaks, these are the ideas and concepts that will be at the front of the policy queue.  They will be the proposals most likely to succeed!  As such, it is instructive to assess what’s on front burner today.  If you agree, please read on . . .

Recently Enacted Programs:  Potential Tax Bill Impacts

While most media attention has focused on budget debates, Congress and the White House have actually passed a few things in the past year.  Of course, there’s tax reform which should have a profound impact on the US innovation economy.   I’m no tax expert, but I can offer a few observations.

  • Over the short term, tax changes should put more cash in the hands of large and small businesses, and that hopefully generates new investments. 
  • The new tax rules do generate benefits for independent workers who opt to create pass-through companies, so we might also expect it to accelerate ongoing growth in the gig economy. 
  • Meanwhile, limits on the state and local tax deduction will create further budget pressures in states with higher state rates.  This may, in turn, put pressure on state and local economic development budgets going forward.

For economic developers, the new Opportunity Zone program, created as part of the tax reform package, is worth a look.  The zones are a new incentive program to encourage investment in low-income communities.   Rules and regulations for the program are still under development, but the basic outlines are as follows.  State and territory governments will designate up to 25 percent of their distressed areas as potential Opportunity Zones.  After this designation, private investors in these communities will be eligible for several tax incentives, including capital gains tax deferrals and a permanent exemption for certain categories of capital gains income.   This concept has great potential to spur investments in distressed communities across the US.  States are now in the process of identifying potential Opportunity Zones so now is the time to get engaged!

New Legislative Proposals

For folks working in economic development, the big debates this year will likely revolve around the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan, reauthorization of the Farm Bill, and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  We intend to cover these debates in future newsletters and blog posts.   Below, we present some other recently introduced bills that have triggered our interest.  It’s unlikely that any of these measures pass as stand-alone bills, but they do have the potential of being included as amendments to larger legislative packages that make their way through Capitol Hill.  They also offer useful insights about what’s currently on the minds of our Senators and Representatives.


Community College to Career Fund Act (S. 620):  This proposal, from Sen. Duckworth (D-IL) and others, creates new programs that expand business-higher education partnerships around in-demand career pathways.

Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act (S. 1251/H.R. 2685):  Sen. Warner (D-VA) has been a national leader in thinking about how to support the gig economy.  This bill authorizes a small grant program to invest in pilot projects that provide portable benefits to gig economy workers.  It offers a means to test the best approach to strengthening the social safety net for the independent workforce.

Gateway to Careers Act (S. 2047):   This bill seeks to expand career pathway programs by providing new funding for partnerships between community colleges, universities, and employer in in-demand sectors such as manufacturing and health care. It is targeted to unemployed or underemployed people facing barriers to obtain new credential or education.

Investing in American Workers Act (S. 2048):   Like S. 2047, this bill calls for a comprehensive rethinking of how we do skills training in the US.  It would create a new tax credit (of up to 20%) to employers to help defray the cost of training new and incumbent workers.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The Startup Act (S. 1827):  I’ve blogged about this bill before as it’s been introduced a number of times in the past.  It was a good idea the first time, and it’s still a good idea.  Its main plank provides fast track visas for high growth entrepreneurs and immigrant researchers. Other provisions expand funds for technology commercialization and regional innovation strategies.

Support Startup Businesses Act (S. 2419):  This bill amends the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to further encourage technology commercialization.  It allows SBIR grantees to use up to 5% of their funds to support commercialization efforts.

21st Century Competition Commission Act (H.R. 4686):  There is growing concern, especially among progressives, about growing industrial concentration and its impacts on consumers, communities, and small businesses.  This bill, recently introduced by Rep. Ellison (D-MN) and others, is a sign that Democrats are seeking to further raise the visibility of this issue.  It calls for an independent blue ribbon commission to study the impacts of economic concentration on today’s economy.

Small Business

Startup Accelerator Opportunity Act (S. 1969/H.R. 4071):  The SOAR Act proposes to increase federal funding for startup accelerator programs with a special focus on investments in distressed regions.

Veteran Entrepreneurs Act (H.R. 4473):  As more service members transition out of the military, we can expect to see many proposals focused on easing their shift back into the civilian economy.  HR 4473 is one example of this trend.  It provides tax credits to help veterans purchase franchise businesses.   Similarly, the Manufacturing Jobs for Veterans Act (H.R. 3963) creates new programs to help veterans obtain new jobs in manufacturing fields.

Small Business Advanced Cybersecurity Enhancements Act (H.R. 4668):  Cybersecurity protection for business, especially small business, is a growing concern.   Government contractors are now required to comply with new and stricter DoD cybersecurity rules that went into effect this year.  This new proposal seeks to help by creating cybersecurity assistance units at key agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to help small firms deal with rapidly emerging cyber threats.

What’s New at EntreWorks Consulting?

2018 is gearing up to be another busy and productive year.  We’re kicking off new projects in Northwest Pennsylvania and in Wayne County, PA, and continuing with ongoing work for the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment.   As usual, Erik Pages will be on the speaking circuit this Spring.  Look for him in Arlington VA, Billings MT, Harrisburg, PA, Seven Springs PA, and at the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) annual conference in Dallas.

We’ve also added a new report to the EntreWorks Library.  Stronger Economies in Coal Reliant Places summarizes our work (on a project headed by the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Development Organizations) providing technical assistance to coal-reliant communities pursuing economic diversification strategies. 

We continue to provide more regular news and updates at the EntreWorks blog at http://entreworks.net/blog.   Recent posts have discussed worker retraining programs, technology talent in the Silicon Prairie, and the rise of “character towns.” You can also access blog updates at our Facebook and LinkedIn pages and on Google Plus.