What About “Joe the Travel Agent”?

The infamous “Joe the Plumber,” who dominated the final presidential debate earlier this month, has now seen his 15 minutes of fame come to an end. But during his reign as media sensation of the moment—for good or bad—he did steer the focus of the campaign to the challenges of the small-business operator—entrepreneurs like you who keep the economy and country going.

And those challenges continue to grow: According to the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, one-third of small-business owners report the uncertain economy as the biggest challenge they face in growing their businesses—the largest number in the seven-year history of the survey.

On the positive side, however, despite the turmoil on Wall Street, small-business owners and managers remained optimistic about the condition of their individual businesses, according to a survey taken September 25-October 6, 2008, by Opinion Research Corp., an infoGROUP company. The Small Business Caravan survey, which has been conducted monthly since May 2008, provides insight into the small-business community that makes up half of the U.S. economy. Although 80 percent of small-business owners surveyed think U.S. economic conditions are poor, only 35 percent felt the condition of their business mirrors those of the overall economy.

Contrary to their views on the overall economy, most small-business owners and managers were more positive about their own business conditions. The number of small-business professionals rating the health of their business as “good” was 65 percent; little changed over the four-month period of the surveys.

Continuing that upbeat mood, entrepreneurs expected economic conditions to “improve” within the next year, with 51 percent expecting economic conditions to be “good” a year from now, and 5 percent believing they will be “very good.”

There is also some good news in the travel industry with the recent drop in fuel prices—in mid-October, the price of oil fell below the $70-per-barrel level for the first time in more than a year. That’s welcome news for the airlines and for consumers, who base much of their economic confidence on the price of oil. While it won’t lead to an immediate dramatic rise in travel, it’s a positive sign in what has been thus far a dismal autumn.