Female CEOs point to over-regulation, uncertainty as major hurdles to economic recovery

Over-regulation, uncertainty and a dearth of qualified candidates for tech jobs were the most notable grievances listed Monday at the “Women’s CEO Panel on Jobs and the Economy,” convened by Republicans.

With an estimated 50 women and a few men in attendance, a panel of female business leaders addressed Republican congresswomen about the challenges their respective companies face and how “the administration’s economic policies and regulations have affected business growth and job creation.”

Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the panel’s moderator, explained that the event’s goal was to bring female industry leaders together to share their perspectives on how to revive the economy, which she pointed out has suffered 34 consecutive months of an unemployment rate higher than 8 percent.

“Women play an instrumental role in our economy. Two out of three small businesses are now started by women,” she said. “Women-owned businesses are now the fastest growing segment in the United States economy and they generate nearly $2.5 trillion in revenue a year. Women manage 83 percent of the household income, spend two out of three health care dollars and make up the majority of health care providers in America. And there is no one who understands the effects of economic policy more than these six women.”

The panel covered an array of topics, but centered on a general theme of frustration with the regulatory burdens the government has placed on their businesses.

Alison Brown, president and CEO of NAVSYS Corporation, which specializes in GPS products, explained how economic uncertainty and barriers to participation, in NAVSYS’s case competing for Defense Department contracts, has made doing business difficult.

“Restore confidence to the business community,” Brown advised. “Having no plan in place to get out of the debt crisis is hurting business far more, in my opinion, than any of the flaws that economists have pointed out which make it hard for recovery. The worst case situation for businesses in developing our own strategic plans for growth is the no plan condition that condition that currently exists — due to congressional gridlock and the inability of the super committee to come up with resolutions.”

Catherine Heigel, president of Duke Energy South Carolina, addressed the business of energy in America, but treaded lightly, noting a pending merger with Progress Energy. Heigel stressed the “competitive advantage” America and the state of South Carolina enjoy, having an affordable and reliable source of energy.

Heigel noted that while the U.S. enjoys this “competitive advantage,” the government has imposed a laundry list of additional demands on the industry, making meeting both the needs of clients and the mandates of the government difficult and costly for businesses and, by extension, the consumer.

Noting that there is no single solution, Heigel offered some suggestions, including a tax holiday to allow for the repatriation of offshore money — of which Duke Energy has $1.2 billion in foreign earnings that could be put to use in the U.S. — and more regulatory flexibility.

“Increasingly stringent environmental regulations could further strain reliability,” she said, explaining that short compliance deadlines and the failure of departments within the EPA to coordinate has created added uncertainty. “We serve people, communities, and we power the economy. We have to get it right. We must balance clean with affordability.”