We The People/Wisconsin: Economy — A small business owner reflects on politics, civility and listening to others

By Bret Gundlach

When I was asked to participate in the We The People/Wisconsin 2012 Economy Project, I was excited because I thought it would be an opportunity to express the views of a small-business person working hard to build a better life for my family.

Having grown up and spent most of my life in Madison, I’ve always felt like this was an under-represented voice in political and social discussions. As much as we rely upon small businesses to drive the economy and employ most of our citizens, we tend to ignore this community when it comes to politics, economic policies and social issues.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of WisBusiness.com’s part of the We the People/Wisconsin 2012 economy project. Members of the statewide media coalition followed Gundlach and Wisconsin families throughout the year telling their stories and their views on the state and national economy.

The project involves Wisconsin media outlets based in Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Green Bay, La Crosse and Madison.

Now in its 20th year, We the People/Wisconsin provides a unique voice for citizens all across Wisconsin. WTP’s mission is to broaden residents’ participation in public life through citizen-based reporting, town meetings, candidate and issue forums. Since it began in 1992, WTP has sponsored more than 100 live televised forums, candidate debates, statewide conferences and town hall meetings.


10/8/12: Biz owner backs tax tweaks, sees room for government savings

9/7/12: Businessman backs teacher pay boosts but wants districts to tackle waste first

8/6/12: State jobs situation could be improving, biz owner says

7/1/12: Biz owner sees utility model as possible fix for health care problems

6/3/12: Business owner sees reasons for unity despite political differences

5/6/12: Business owner favors political individuality over group identification

3/31/12: Gundlach says he’s had to ‘buckle down’ due to rising gas prices

3/3/12: Intro: Meet Bret Gundlach

The discussions tend to be driven by the “big” players — Big Business, Big Labor, Big Government, Big Religion, etc. — and the individuals and small businesses are drowned out by all the “yelling”. In my experience, all of these players have become dysfunctional, bloated and inefficient, and they could learn a lot from getting back to the basics of successful small businesses.

Small businesses have to live within their means. A small business can’t issue bonds or borrow from China or withdraw dues from members’ paychecks, so it has to make a balanced budget and live with it. Small businesses have to provide quality products and services in an efficient manner. Small businesses have to be able to adapt to change. Small businesses have to listen to people (customers, vendors, competitors, advisors, friends, family) and come to compromises. Small businesses have to care about people and try to do what’s best or they won’t survive.

The “big” players are motivated by money and power and directed by selfish, single-minded (and often diametrically opposed) points of view. Individuals and small businesses have lost our voice to these giants and I don’t know if we can ever get it back.

As I was considering the topics of each article, I had many firmly-held views, but I was also forced to consider opposing points of view.

Through this project, and through experiencing first-hand the political and social turmoil we’ve been living through in Wisconsin, I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of us live in the middle of the political and social spectrum.

We want the best for our families and friends and neighbors. We may believe very strongly in our views of government spending or taxation or the value of unions, but we also listen to and value the opinions of those who disagree with us, and by understanding each other we can compromise and move ahead together. No one person or one side has all the answers.

So, I would encourage people to stop yelling and listen to each other. Consider more than a single issue when you are voting. Educate yourselves about the pros and cons of your viewpoints and think for yourself. Most of all, be civil and respectful and realize that we are all just trying to get by the best we can. Together, we can do it.

— Gundlach is a 44-year-old father of two who lives on Madison’s east side. He runs a small consulting company with five employees called TransformPOS, Inc. that has helped restaurants, clubs, bars and other hospitality businesses with point-of-sale and other high-tech solutions.