“It’s an honor to be with an entrepreneur who has a lot of people working for him. A lot of folks depend on the success of this business for them to be able to keep a good job, put food on the table at the end of the week,” Romney said of the business, which is run by CEO Kenny Burts of west Cobb.
“It’s not easy,” Romney said. “I recognize that right now with the challenge in our economy that keeping a business going strong is hard, and some of the new banking regulations, the Dodd-Frank bill, and all of the burdens that have been placed on employers have made it harder for banks to make loans to small businesses like this, and that hurts jobs.”
Burts is the classic American success story. Born in Atlanta, he developed a taste for key lime pie while visiting his Miami grandparents at the age of 9. He founded his company out of a one-bedroom Marietta apartment in 1989.
“We literally had an ironing board as an extension to the countertop to be able to make enough pies,” he said.
A partnership with a private investor in 1992 funded his expansion to allow for growth that now includes 28 employees in a 33,000-square-foot food processing facility in Smyrna, where he can produce 4,000 to 5,000 pies per shift.
His secret, he said, is juicing fresh citrus fruit on-site, which gives his pies their unique flavor.
Now 54, he and his wife, Ellen, have two children who attend Lovinggood Middle and Hillgrove High.
In addition to Attorney General Sam Olens, who has publicly endorsed Romney, Romney picked up another endorsement from Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, who was also in attendance.
“I’d vote for him right now,” Bacon said. “I like him. I liked him the last time he ran. I just think his thinking is more in tune with what this area of the country is anyway.”
Bacon said Romney’s faith doesn’t bother him in the least.
“If it doesn’t bother him that I’m a Methodist, it shouldn’t bother me that he’s a Mormon,” the mayor said.
After touring the facility, Romney sat down with Burts; his father, Ransom Burts, the company’s chief financial officer; Bacon; Olens; and Cobb Chamber CEO David Connell for a roundtable discussion on the plight of the small businessman.
Romney said that morning he was in Tampa visiting with several unemployed Floridians.
“We can only create jobs if businesses like yours are growing,” Romney told Burts. “And what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is there have been some policies that have made it harder and harder for businesses like yours to grow and to hire people. And my guess is this has not been an easy time for this business.”
Burts said it has indeed been a challenge.
Romney asked Bacon what he saw regarding the health of small and larger businesses in the area.
“I’ve never seen it just completely stop like it has,” Bacon said, adding that he tries to eat all the pies that he can to help out Burts.
The mayor went on to say that he serves on a local bank board and the FDIC “is killing us.”
Answered Romney: “Well, the regulators, I say somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the regulators would only be happy if you didn’t make loans. But the truth is in order to get an economy going, banks have to be making loans, but they only want to make a loan if there’s no risk whatsoever. The nature of growth and investment and job creation is people willing to take some risk, not a lot of risk, but some risk, and these guys, these inspectors and regulators, have made it so frightening for the banking industry that people are pulling back at the very time we need more credit and not less.”
Romney pledged that putting people back to work would be his No. 1 priority if elected president. He said he would do this by keeping the tax burden low while having trade policies with other nations that make sense for the U.S.
“We don’t put our hand on the scale of justice and give a business to the unions and insert the (National Labor Relations Board) in the way they did in South Carolina, saying, ‘You can’t build a Boeing factory in South Carolina because it’s not a union state,’” he said. “These kinds of things kill jobs.”
A reporter asked Romney how banks could be convinced to begin lending money to residential owners.
“You know, banks can only make money if they’re making loans,” Romney said. “And they want to make loans, but they’re scared to death because the new regulations that have been passed, 2,000 pages of Dodd-Frank have made them say, ‘We don’t know what’s coming. We got to be careful that the regulators don’t come in and close us down,’ so they’re pulling back at the very time we need them to be stepping forward and be willing to loan to small business. They’re doing the opposite, and that’s because Washington has got it backwards. You’ve got to make it more clear that the future is certain and that we’re not going to crack down on banks in ways that make it where they don’t want to make loans.”
Romney called for much of the Dodd-Frank bill to be killed.
“You don’t get rid of all regulations,” Romney said. “You have to have regulations and laws to make a free economy work. But you don’t so overburden the financial sector that it can’t do the job it’s intended to do, which is to make loans to small business and put people back to work.”
Reporters quizzed Romney on a statement he made in Tampa to the unemployed Floridians, where he reportedly told them that he too was unemployed.
“You know, I will always make light of myself, and self-deprecating humor is part of who I am, but the reality is that we have a president that doesn’t understand the plight of the unemployed,” Romney said. “We have in this country 9.1 percent unemployment rates, and he says this is ‘a bump in the road.’ That’s not a bump in the road. These are Americans. … We now have a greater degree of long-term unemployment in America than we had during the Depression. This president has failed the American people.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has criticized Romney’s comments about bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible, a comment Romney was also asked about.
Romney said the U.S. has done a superb job in removing the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“And that’s why we went there to get the Taliban and al-Qaida out,” Romney said. “We then have done a superb job militarily pushing the Taliban out of Afghanistan and stabilizing Afghanistan. Now we’re moving to a phase where to hold on to the independence and the economic vitality that’s beginning to grow in Afghanistan, the Afghanis themselves are going to have to step forward to secure that kind of security. That’s why I think you’re going to see the troops are training the Afghan troops. They’re now developing that capacity, and Afghanistan’s leadership, Karzai, the governors on down, they’re going to have to stand up and fight to preserve what has been won at a dear cost by the men and women of the United States of America.”
Olens explained why he brought Romney by to the Smyrna business.
“This is the epitome of what we’re talking about, of folks that give it their all to have a successful business, and the government’s in the way, the government’s making it more difficult than it should be to continue,” Olens said. “They make their payments every month, they’ve done everything that the government’s asked of them, but they still have difficulties.”
And while Romney won Burts over with his politics, Burts clearly won Romney over with his pie, which the presidential contender declared “delicious.”