As State of the Union addresses go, President Trump's first foray was a crowd pleaser--unless of course you're interested in some of the specific policy issues that many fast-growth entrepreneurs were hoping to hear about.
Over the course of his nearly 90-minute State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump was surprisingly quiet on entrepreneurship. And while he mentioned small businesses several times throughout his speech, he didn't say anything new about plans to help spur them forward, which raises questions about his focus in 2018 and beyond. He did, however, take ample opportunity to bask in his administration's key legislative victory, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed into law late last year.
"We slashed the rate so American companies can compete and win against anyone else, anywhere in the world," the president said, referring to a key provision of the law, which reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.
He further recognized more than 10 notable attendees over the course of the address, including the co-founders of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a Dayton, Ohio-based metal fabricator that credits its best year in its 20-year history to Trump's economic policies and the promise of tax reform. The new law, for instance, allows small businesses to deduct 20 percent of their business income. The now-37-person company recently handed out raises and nearly doubled its staff. "It's a good feeling," the president ad-libbed, referring to Staub's expansion in 2017.
He also included a hat-tip to corporate giants including Apple, Disney, and Starbucks, which have promised to funnel their tax savings into bonuses for employees and hiring more workers. Indeed, many U.S. businesses have cheered the passage of the new tax law, anticipating a boon to their bottom line: "Our members are overwhelmingly in favor of tax reform," said Jack Mozloom, a spokesperson for the Nashville-based National Federation of Independent Business, in an interview with Inc. late last year.
The speech was remarkable for what Trump didn't say. He spoke at length about immigration reform and called on bipartisan support for a down-the-center solution, but he didn't mention actual plans for fixing issues with the H-1B visa program, which allows thousands of people in specialized fields to work in the U.S.
The president devoted only 78 words of his 5,200 word address to trade, the subject that he has previously credited for winning him the election--and which carries major implications for American business owners. "Trump won't tell the public or Congress key information about trade negotiations," noted Senator Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) responding to the State of the Union speech on Twitter. "Without it, we can't know if he's making a good deal for Americans."
Indeed, Trump said surprisingly little about the renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which recently wrapped up its sixth round of talks in Montreal this month. The president has repeatedly vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the decades-old trade agreement unless partners Mexico and Canada are willing to make considerable concessions, such as reclassifying the "rules of origin" on certain products in the trade zone, with an eye toward reducing the U.S.'s more than $50 billion trade deficit. "America has finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our wealth," the president said on Tuesday. "The era of economic surrender is totally over." The next round of NAFTA talks is set to begin in Mexico early next month, though U.S. trade secretary Robert Lighthizer has complained that the negotiations are proceeding too slowly.
Of course, addresses like these are often just ceremonial--and don't always equate to legislative focus. Whether trade deals and immigration reforms will come to fruition during President Trump's time in office is still a mystery.