Michael Crowley Letter

Michael A. Crowley letter on plight of small business owner.

Published Dec 2, 2011

October 5, 2011

To All My Former Valued Employees:

You are the best of the best.

It took me years to attract a talented group of engineers like you and build this company into what it was. Like other small businesses that have struggled through this economic plague, we were forced to trim our workforce. Now it’s just me. I hope you are all well and I sincerely miss the good days when we were working together.

My goal as an employer was to give you a great place to work, a good salary, benefits, and good projects to work on that would challenge you intellectually. I think we accomplished this. We built a very comfortable office with a full kitchen where we would take turns cooking on Fridays, we went deep sea fishing twice a year, the company treated employees and wives or girlfriends to dinner once a month, and we all even went on a cruise together one year. Some business owners would not have done most of these things, but my goal was to have the best employees and to provide a great place to work. And, it paid off well. Together we were a great company, we were profitable, and I thank you for your efforts.

When the economy started to decline I held on to you guys. I probably held on for too long, but finding great employees was difficult. Back in 2008 we kept saying things would get better "after the election". Ironically, we are saying the same thing in 2011
because the country is no better off now than we were then. In fact, things have gotten worse. I know where each of you has landed, and I am happy that you are all well.

Unfortunately, the regulatory climate in this country simply isn’t conducive to anyone starting or growing a business. That means I won’t be hiring you back, or anyone like you, anytime soon. Simply stated, business hates uncertainty. The regulatory climate in
this country and the attitude of our lawmakers breeds uncertainty. I have no idea what hiring an employee is going to cost me in taxes and medical insurance. I have no idea what my personal tax situation is going to be. The banking system has crawled into its
shell in fear of additional regulations. They aren’t lending any money to anyone — despite the money — our tax dollars — that the government gave them. There is just too much uncertainty, and there is absolutely no incentive for guys like me to try to break out and grow. That is precisely the wrong attitude that we should have in times like these when unemployment is so high. I employed 15 people a few years ago. A drop in the bucket? Maybe. But I had 15 great employees that earned good wages. A couple of you got married, bought a house, and started a family during the time you worked for me. Certainly that helped the economy. If hundreds or thousands of small business across the country had enough confidence to hire and expand, think of the immediate and beneficial effect that would have on you, me, and the country.

I started my first company 17 years ago. I worked from home, and my wife supported us, took care of the family, and paid off my student loans while I worked on the business. Any small business owner will tell you that it takes hard work and dedication to make a company succeed. This one was no different. My office was in my house, making working long nights and weekends the norm. We seldom went on vacations because with me out of town the company stopped operating. I didn’t leave the office for fear of
missing a phone call. When we made enough money to get cell phones we were able to "relax" as the office was now extended to the car, or wherever I happened to be. Days were spent in meetings while evenings were spent drafting, doing design work, and scrambling to meet the next days’ deadlines.

Any small business owner will tell you that you never leave work. They are right. Everything depended on my ability to produce. You never leave your work "at the office". Employees have the luxury of walking away at 5:00, but the owner is still working late into the night, and then stays awake at night worrying about the next day. Family life suffers. Sometimes your health suffers, but you can’t afford to be sick. One day, God willing, you get successful enough to add employees. My first employee worked in my house. That worked for a little while but you just can’t have employees working in the same small house that you and your family live in. Luckily we were able to rent a small office and move out of the house. That simple move changed a lot of things. Suddenly you go from just doing the work to being a property manager, office manager, and payroll manager, along with all of the other tasks you were already doing. Those long nights you put in working from home are now a long lost luxury since you are now putting in long nights away from home.

Why do we do this? Because someday it will all pay off, or so we keep telling ourselves. My finest moments were hiring a staff of good engineers like you. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I was responsible for the livelihood of 10 engineers, being able to offer up to 15 of us a good salary, good benefits, and being able to give bonus checks at the end of a banner month or year. It felt good to be able to share what I had built with you guys, and to see genuine appreciation in your faces and in the way you worked hard every day.

So what went wrong? For my part, I should have let you go years earlier than I did. If I had, I might have made it through the storm a little better. I’ve already told you why that wasn’t possible for me. My worst day was when I had to invite you into the conference room to tell you that your employment with me was over.

The government says we are in this mess because Americans went on a spending spree they couldn’t afford. People bought houses they shouldn’t have and brokers packaged up all the risky loans into cool and lucrative new investment vehicles. If you listen to the government, what went wrong is totally our fault.


I think they, being the politicians, forget that it was government programs that encouraged people to get into homes they couldn’t afford. It was government ignorance of many publicly stated warnings against mortgage backed securities that allowed these vehicles flourish. I guess if you consider that it was us that elected these guys then they are right: it’s our fault.

In 2008 this country needed the best President in history. The country needed leadership. We bought "hope and change" believing that the new administration would bring an end to politics as we knew it and focus on America to bring the economy out of the worst decline in recent history. What we got was more of the same. It amazes me that the administration blames the other party for not being able to get any legislation passed when that same administration had control of the House and Senate for two years and still couldn’t get anything passed. We need leadership. The needs of the country demand it. We have people out of work, a government bent on spending its way out of a financial crisis it helped to create, we are fighting 3 wars around the globe, and we have a group of lawmakers seemingly more intent on smearing the opposition than solving problems.

Since the 2008 election we have spent trillions of dollars fighting wars, billions of dollars in failed stimulus efforts, and put legislation into place that has scared the business community from expanding or hiring additional staff. Where is this money coming from? The Republican leadership is criticized for asking that same simple question, and then demonized for simply asking the government to match additional spending with cuts elsewhere. Small business owners understand budgets, being frugal, and controlled spending. We know that we can’t spend more than we make. The result is called bankruptcy. Why can’t the government understand this? What is so wrong with expecting the Government to spend within its means? What is wrong with demanding that the government clean up the wasteful spending that is both inherent and chronic in Washington?

I have always said that if every American had to write a check on April 15th to pay their taxes, this country would have a drastically different tax code. Instead of actually writing a check, most Americans have taxes withdrawn at every paycheck and they simply lose track, or get immune to the deduction. The biggest joke is the "refund". Wow! Bonus money in April. Can people really be that immune to what they are actually paying that they are tricked into thinking they are getting something free? I can assure you that I have never received a “refund” from the government.

I am one of the 50% of Americans that actually pay taxes. You heard that right: 50% of Americans don’t even pay taxes. As a small business owner, tax season is generally a bloodbath. It is amazing what I have paid in taxes. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that every American should pay for the privilege of living here and should share the cost of running this government. But when you actually see the amount you pay, you really start to wonder what you received in benefit for the money you paid. Did I get any benefit at all from the stimulus package that I contributed to? Absolutely not. Am I going to benefit from Obamacare, which will eventually cost me a pile of money if I ever intend to hire employees again? Absolutely not. Do I get even a fraction of that money back in government services? No way. Since I am not a user of (or eligible for) government programs where I could get free stuff, I am simply forced to pay for others that are. A more fair way to would be for the government to charge for the services you use. That
will never happen. But what is so wrong with a flat rate tax code? Everyone pays the same rate regardless of what you use. While the imbalance will still be there between those addicted to government handouts and those of us that aren’t, at least all Americans
would pay something and everyone would have the same obligation.

The current focus on taxing the rich really cracks me up. Who defines rich? The current administration keeps sliding that number around. One day its people who earn $1 million per year, the next it falls to $250,000, and I’ve even heard numbers as low as $100,000. Some 70% of tax revenues in this country come from the top 20% of wage earners. So the current administration wants them to pay more? Wants them to "pay their fair share"? Are we to now believe that they aren’t paying a fair share of the burden? That’s crazy. It’s these people that have struggled like I have to build a good life and a good company. We’ve put in our time and we actually share the rewards with our employees and through the taxes we already pay. How about the other 50% that pays nothing? Should the top wage earners — and job creators — continue to pay for those who have managed to pay nothing?

So what went wrong? We bought hope and change and got despair and continued partisan bickering. We wanted leadership and we got none. We wanted a savior but we didn’t get one. So what went wrong? We did, and we had better get it right in 2012. The country simply can’t survive another 4 years of incredible spending and lack of leadership.

So what can we do? Vote, and pray. We need to vote for lawmakers that will stand up for the ideals that will bring this country back to the place of prominence it once was. America has lost the moral high ground, its place of prominence technically, and the strength of a thriving economy. We need to vote for lawmakers that will solve our problems today, and not pass them along to our children and grandchildren in the form of astronomical debts. We need a government that will live within its means just as we are
expected to live within ours. We need a President that will rise above politics to lead different groups of interests to a solution that is best for the country. Most of all we need to unite as Americans and demand that our government fix the mess they have helped to

And then, we should pray. I am a Christian and I believe that Jesus Christ died on a cross to take the punishment for sin so that we wouldn’t have to. Because of sin, we couldn’t enter Heaven unless a sacrifice was made on our behalf, and Jesus made that sacrifice for us. The Bible tells us that in order to get to Heaven we must believe. And we must pray. We must pray that God helps us through these hard times and that this great country can be great once again. Whatever your faith, whatever your beliefs, we must pray.


Michael A. Crowley, PE
Crowley & Associates, Inc.
Professional Engineers
Wake Forest, NC 27587


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.

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