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Small businesses are a big issue

By Lisa Desjardins and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue July 31, 2012
Jannet Walsh, 48, sits at her grandfather's desk, from which she's launching her own small business.
Jannet Walsh, 48, sits at her grandfather's desk, from which she's launching her own small business.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Small Business Administration defines small business as having fewer than 500 workers
  • Small businesses have generated 65% of new jobs in America for past 17 years
  • Obama, Romney offer competing tax cut plans to help small businesses
  • Follow CNN Radio's Embed America trip on our map

Editor's note: Embed America is a partnership between CNN Radio and CNN iReport. This series tells the story of the 2012 U.S. presidential election through the people most critical to the campaigns: the voters. CNN Radio is traveling across the country to interview iReporters on election issues close to their hearts. These issues were named important by iReporters during phase 1 of the iReport Debate.

Murdock, Minnesota (CNN) -- Jannet Walsh is not waiting for the presidential candidates to encourage more jobs. Instead, the unemployed Minnesotan is trying to create one on her own.

"I think it was February, after I don't know how many (job) rejections," the 48-year-old told CNN Radio, the frustration still clear in her voice, "I actually remember sitting here kind of yelling, 'This is it! This is enough!' "

That moment, Walsh decided to create her own business, a one-woman photography and media company based in her family's century-old home. With that decision, the energetic former newspaper photographer took a gamble that is central to the debates over the economy and the White House.

Small businesses generated 65% of the new jobs in America over the past 17 years, according to the Small Business Administration. And such firms, defined as having fewer than 500 workers, employ half of all workers in the private sector.

Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have spoken about the importance of small businesses and their commitment to supporting them. But Walsh already understands the bigger issue: how to make sure a nascent business survives.

"Right now, I'm not making much money," Walsh sighed, her laptop perched on the antique writer's desk that used to belong to her grandfather, "but I think once more people know who I am and actually see me out more, I think that could change."

Better off than four years ago? Watch Jannet Walsh's iReport

In addition to the normal steep hill involved with starting a business, this entrepreneur faces a hurdle with her location. Walsh moved back to the small town of Murdock, Minnesota, two years ago to help her mother, who was ill and died last fall. She has stayed in the farming community of 278 people for a number of reasons. Her aunt is ill and in a nearby nursing home, and after returning to Murdock, Walsh has had a renewed sense of family and easy-going community.

"There's not a lot of nightlife here," she admitted. Then the former newspaper worker paused, her face then lighting into a smile, "but in the evening, when it gets cooler, you'll see people walking, and they'll walk through town or through the old cemetery. It's very nice."

Walsh pointed out the homes of relatives, friends and perhaps the town's most knowing resident, Mrs. Clark, whose house has a clear view of the church steps.

Now, she hopes she can beat the odds and make a small business thrive in this quiet town. According to the SBA, a third of all small businesses shutter in the first two years, and half call it quits in the first five.

This is what the men running for president say they want to change, and both men say they'd try to help by changing the tax code.

Romney would like to cut all individual income taxes by 20%. But critics say the Republican's plan would result in higher tax rates for the smallest earners, like Walsh, and lower tax rates for some bigger companies.

Romney vs. Obama on taxes

Obama has not made a specific proposal for individual income tax cuts but insists that he is for tax reform that would lower most rates.

He has signed and proposed other specific tax help for small businesses, including a deduction on $125,000 worth of expenses. As with Romney's plan, critics point out that larger businesses could end up with lower tax rates than some small companies under the president's proposal.

Embed America's behind-the-scenes video with Walsh

In Minnesota, Walsh's business, with just five paying clients, is about as small as they get. In part, that is because her starting strategy has included a few nonpaying events so that she could get more attention for her work and name.

"Hopefully ... someone will see, wow, there's this woman in Murdock, Minnesota, and she has a lot of skills and talent," she mused, "I think we should hire her."

How are you coping with the economy? Share your story with CNN iReport

Walsh has invested money in equipment and advertising for her new venture. But, like many people starting a small business, she is not counting on that as her only source of income. She's not sure the candidates understand the juggling act a startup requires.

"How we're going to work has changed," Walsh said, her wide eyes getting narrow, "It's possible, and this is scary, I never receive another full-time job. ... We need to rethink how we earn our money to live, and it might have to be through several flows of income."

iReport Debate: Two unemployed voters talk jobs

Walsh won't say which candidate she believes could improve her life more, adding that she doesn't want to push away potential clients with political thoughts.

But, she added, "I do want something to change."

See all of the Embed America coverage here. And track the Embed team's progress on our map.

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