The Fiscal Cliff Threatens Job Creation, Economic Recovery

Small business owners are faced with the very real threat that the fiscal cliff will block the path to an economic recovery.

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Steve Zelnak is a Job Creators Alliance member and the chairman of the Board of Directors and former CEO of Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., and chairman and majority owner of ZP Enterprises.

Lately, it seems everyone is talking about the pervasive uncertainty that fear of the so-called "fiscal cliff" is causing. And it's true: I know from personal experience that small business owners all across the nation cite the lack of policy certainty from Washington and the fiscal cliff as a concern and a roadblock to job creation.

But, one issue that surprisingly hasn't gotten as much attention in the business community beyond the uncertainty is this: What happens if the fear becomes reality?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The fact is, the uncertainty felt by so many businessmen and women is so stifling because there is a legitimate fear about the overall economic impact of the fiscal cliff. Economists agree that going off the fiscal cliff would be nothing short of cataclysmic for our economy and would likely send America spiraling into another recession. Nobody wants to hear that. Of course, everyone seems reasonably certain that Congress will put aside its partisan bickering and come together with some sort of mutually accepted bargain. Given this Congress's track record on bipartisanship, I'm not as sanguine.

As bad as things have been in our economy, consumer confidence has been trending higher. Americans are optimistic by nature, and our belief that better days lie ahead says more about our country than the policies coming out of Washington. But, whatever glimmers of hope or momentum that is building in American's minds could be wiped away if politicians in Washington don't move the nation in a direction that encourages and incentivizes job creators to invest and hire. The first step is solving the fiscal cliff, but extends much further than that into areas like commonsense regulatory rollbacks and comprehensive tax reform.

I joined Martin Marietta Corporation in 1981 and have been extremely fortunate to experience the American Dream as that business has grown over the past three decades, creating hundreds of good, well-paying jobs in the process. Since retiring as CEO of Martin Marietta in 2010, my son and I have bought four small manufacturing companies over the past three years, helping them grow. In spite of a burdensome regulatory environment and a miserable economy, we have managed to create nearly two dozen jobs at these companies.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

When I think about the fiscal cliff and other hurdles to job creation that are looming on the horizon, I'm less concerned about myself and more concerned about the employees who are the reasons for the success at Martin Marietta—where I am still non-executive chairman of the board—and the other companies we own. These are hard-working, middle class Americans who have truly borne the brunt of the recession—the segment of the population that politicians love to lionize on the campaign trail or in front of TV cameras.

Everyone has their reasons to fear the fiscal cliff: economists have academic ones, and the president and members of Congress have political ones. But for business leaders like myself, the fear boils down to two main concerns: our business and our employees. Let's hope that, whatever the reasons, our fears do not become reality and that the rumblings of recovery continue to build into a roar.

  • Read Chad Stone: What You Need to Know About the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Plan
  • Read David Brodwin: Can Public Banking Finance the New Economy?
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy