CLINTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton came to Maryland yesterday and promised to revitalize the economy's small-business sector, calling it the nation's "engine of opportunity."
With a drug store, a sandwich shop, a dry cleaner, a candy store and a pet shop as his backdrop, Mr. Clinton charged the Bush administration with failing to nurture and protect the economy's most reliable job producer.
"We have a system now that makes no distinction in the tax law between buying a Maserati and buying a new piece of equipment for that cleaners over there," he said, turning toward Coyle Cleaners to his left.
"I say give tax credits and encourage them always to stay ahead TC of the competition," he said. Businesses should have incentives to modernize their plants with new equipment, he said.
Several thousand people, including many school children, cheered and waved yellow placards with black lettering that read, "Clinton Means Business."
As he arrived in this southern Prince George's County community of conservative Democrats, Mr. Clinton received two boxes of chocolate lollipops from Connie Kruelle, who was waiting for him outside her shop, Connie's Confectionary.
"He put one in his pocket and said, 'Thank you and God bless you,' " she said later.
Someone, Ms. Kruelle said, needs to come up with some ideas on what ails small businesses. "People are scared," she said. "They count more before they spend."
In his speech, Mr. Clinton offered several remedies, including:
* A "permanent tax credit to encourage modernization" of existing businesses.
* A network of 170 technical resource centers for small manufacturing firms. U.S. competitors in Japan and Germany are doing this now, he said.
* More enterprise zones: "We have got to have investment. Investment is what creates jobs," he said. To stimulate economic development in inner cities, zones are established in which businesses get various incentives, such as tax breaks, if they move there.
* A network of 100 community development banks to "create enterprise in inner-city areas and under-served rural areas."
"There is not enough government money in the world to solve the problems of Baltimore, of Washington, of New York, of Los Angeles, of any large city in the country," he said.
"We know that if our goal is to build an expanding economy, we will have to rely on small business, which for many years has been the engine of economic growth. Jobs have been evaporating in the For tune 500 companies," he said. Eighty-five percent of the country's new jobs are created by small businesses, he added.
Mr. Clinton's remedies sounded good to Joyce Coyle, proprietor of the cleaning establishment that the candidate gestured toward when he talked about the tax code, equipment for small businesses and expensive sports cars.
"I'd like to have one," Ms. Coyle said, referring to a Maserati. But she'd also like some of the business the candidate spoke of.
"If he changed the tax laws, made loans more accessible, it would help tremendously," she said. "It could've kept a lot of businesses going these last years. It's a little late for them now."
After the speech, a team of Maryland Republicans offered an on-the-scene rebuttal.
Del. Robert Flanagan of Howard County said Mr. Clinton's appearance with its attendant security had hurt businesses in the Clinton Village Shopping Center by keeping traffic out for a day. That, he said, was symbolic of the Arkansas' governor's candidacy: "The economy may be bad but he can make it worse."
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