TAMPA, Fla. — Playing off Barack Obama’s now famous “you didn’t built that” line, Tuesday night’s convention events focused on the stories of small businesses and those who “built it” themselves — even featuring a new song by country singer Lane Turner “I built it.”
“Before I ran for office I worked in my family’s business, the Peach Crest Fruit Basket, for 13 years,” Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said announcing the theme that was repeated often throughout the night, “we built it.” “I worked hard every day, and I can assure you that my family built that business from the ground up.”
Those who spoke highlighted their own personal stories of achieving and “building” and also those of their constituents, acquaintances and those of the past.
“The history of my state of Oklahoma offers a great example of pursuing the American Dream. It was built and settled by pioneers moving West to seek better lives,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, going on to describe the success story of Romney energy adviser Harold Hamm, the son of sharecroppers, turned oil billionaire.
Jack Gilchrist, president of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Co., Inc., of Hudson, N.H., explained the difficulty in starting a small business.
“This administration is killing us out here. Small business needs a leader. A leader who understands the entire spectrum of business and industry,” he said. “A leader who can work with all parties involved. A leader who will not avoid dealing with difficult issues. A leader with the experience to understand what it takes.”
To Gilchrest, that is Romney.
Throughout the night the big screens on the floor replayed Obama’s partial remarks he made during a speech in Roanoke, “you didn’t build that” followed by clips of Americans explaining how they have to work for themselves for their own success.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte spoke of her husband Joe’s struggles starting a landscaping and snowplowing company when he returned from Iraq.
“We are no different from most families who take risks starting their own business,” she said, “We borrowed money to pursue our dreams. And believe me, there was no guarantee of success. We were not too big to fail — we had to make it work. Yet through all the hard work and sacrifice — we pulled together as a family. As the business grew so did our extended family.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell drove home the point, saying “we need President Romney!”
“We need a president who will say to a small businesswoman: Congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that!” McDonnell said. “Big government didn’t build America: You built America! Small businesses don’t come out of Washington, D.C. pre-made on flatbed trucks.”
Bev Gray of Virginia, owner of Exhibit Edge, came out as another “builder,” and offered her story of struggles as a small business owner without a paycheck.
“And after several years of hard work, long hours, no pay and low pay, we did,” she said. “Today, Exhibit Edge employs 20 people and helps businesses grow through trade show marketing. When those businesses grow, they employ people. The president said that business owners didn’t get there on our own. Well, he’s wrong.”
According to Gray, Obama’s comments show he does not understand what it took to build their business and with it and improving the economy.
“What President Obama doesn’t understand is that when businesses grow, unemployment goes down and people thrive,” she said. “We need a president who understands the value of entrepreneurship.”
Phil Archuletta of New Mexico, owner of P&M Signs spoke about how Obama’s stimulus did not help the business he built but instead hurt it.
“I have heard the same story from other small businesses from all over the country,” he said. “President Obama talks like he supports small businesses, but his actions are destroying us. His administration is putting us out of business. It is our turn to put them out of office!”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got in on the act, telling about her parent’s success in business together.
“My parents started a business out of the living room of our home and, 30-plus years later, it was a multimillion dollar company,” she said “But there wasn’t a single day that was easy and there wasn’t a single day my mom and dad didn’t put everything they had into making that business a success,” she said.
“So, President Obama, with all due respect, don’t tell me that my parents didn’t build their business,” Haley challenged.
The wife of the presidential nominee, Ann Romney also chimed him with her own “he built it,” when discussing her husband’s success.
“As his partner on this amazing journey, I can tell you Mitt Romney was not handed success. He built it,” she stated. “He stayed in Massachusetts after graduate school and got a job. I saw the long hours that started with that first job. I was there when he and a small group of friends talked about starting a new company. I was there when they struggled and wondered if the whole idea just wasn’t going to work. Mitt’s reaction was to work harder and press on.”