For a few minutes Dec. 3, Noel Cuellar had the ear of President Barack Obama.
Cuellar, the president and CEO of injection molder Primera Plastics Inc., was among those taking part in the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth in Washington through the Small Business Administration.
When the president called on him during a question and answer session at the end of the day, Cuellar quickly brought up one of the biggest issues facing his Zeeland, Mich.-based company and thousands of other firms.
For medium and small businesses, one of the things we're looking at is the ability [to] procure financing, he said.
Companies like Primera that have managed their cash flow to ride out the worst days of the recession are now trying to find ways to finance the cost of buying resin and other products for future business, while also trying to find cash to bring back workers.
It's a tough decision, he said.
While the president could offer no immediate solutions, he said Washington is aware of the problems and trying to prompt banks to open credit lines.
On Dec. 8, the White House announced a number of measures designed to help businesses add jobs, including tax credits, jobs in infrastructure work and another push to extend credit to small and mid-sized businesses.
A lot of those are going to be long-term solutions, Cuellar said in a Dec. 8 telephone interview.
Like other companies, Primera primarily has used its cash flow to pay bills and keep operating as its customers in the auto industry cut back production, Cuellar said.
The molder refocused its financial attention on cash flow more than two years ago, which put it in a good position with its debt when the auto industry was hit by the economic downturn.
Primera won work as other firms shut down, but still saw its employment fall from a high of 140 in 2008: It has since started bringing people back, hiring 25 people in the last two-and-a-half weeks, to bring its staff back up to 90.
Cuellar was invited to the White House on Nov. 25, one of fewer than 150 business leaders from across the U.S. brought in to discuss ways to add jobs.
He met top executives from companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and AT&T Corp. but also small firms like a California florist.
The message was the same, Cuellar said. What we got out of it was that business has to change and we have to make sure that we stay focused.
The leaders in Washington also were clear that firms like Primera will be important in any recovery.
It's the small guys, Cuellar said. If we can shore them up, we can recover a lot faster.
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