Op-EdAppeared in Sunshine State News on April 4, 2013By Tom Stemberg

Job Creators are Targets, Fear Their Government

Even in Job-Friendly Flordia, Obamacare Takes Toll

Florida rose steadily in recent years on the annual Chief Executive Magazine business-friendly ranking, now second only to Texas for being the best state for business.

Boosted by its solid workforce, high quality of life and moderate cost of living, small-business owners are also excited by new tax relief and pro-jobs Gov. Rick Scott.

But even in business-friendly Florida, business owners face real obstacles to job creation. A recent survey by Job Creators Alliance found 60 percent of U.S. small-business owners believe the president’s health care program will negatively impact their business this year.

Companies and workers alike are already feeling that impact. Look no further than the world-famous Universal Orlando Resort.

For years, Universal offered its part-time workers limited health care coverage — a mini-med program — at a discounted corporate rate. Hundreds subscribed. The company canceled the unusual and generous benefit earlier this year because mini-meds are no longer permitted under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Under the new health care law, the Universal employees who lost coverage will still be required to purchase insurance. Those who don’t purchase insurance will be fined. Those who can’t afford it may receive subsidies.

When Universal announced the decision, the popular global destination was vilified in the blogosphere. Postings like “Boycott Universal!” and tweets inappropriate for print rained on the resort. Telephones lit up with nasty callers. But Universal wasn’t the only Florida company to take a beating. Darden Restaurants went through the gauntlet in November.

Planning for future compliance with the new national health care law, Orlando-based Darden – the parent company of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster – simply explored potential changes in the composition of its workforce. No changes ever took place, but the company was compelled to clarify its position after media reports inaccurately portrayed its intent. Darden was subsequently attacked from all sides as Obamacare supporters rallied on popular social media sites, making noise about boycotting the popular chain restaurants.

Telephone calls and negative publicity crashed down on Darden for simply trying to understand and plan for new health care mandates – and yet the company did nothing but research.

While Darden’s reputation was unfairly ablaze, a Palm Beach company’s image also caught fire in mid-November. RREMC Restaurants, which owns many eateries including more than 30 Denny’s locations, announced they would add a 5 percent “Obamacare surcharge” to every diner’s check. Angry Obamacare supporters jammed the phones at Denny’s locations across the country; orchestrated calls flowed in to Denny’s California headquarters.

RREMC chief executive John Metz apologized under extreme pressure and went back to the drawing board to figure out how to survive the Affordable Care Act without cutting his workforce.

These CEOs were doing their jobs, protecting shareholder value and addressing the significant business challenges of Obamacare. Still, Universal, Darden and RREMC were vilified by the administration’s supporters, likely by organized phone banks. For the first time in my lifetime, job creators are targets and many fear their government.

Obamacare is already having a chilling effect on job creation — even in Florida, where Gov. Scott eliminated thousands of regulations, generated $1 billion in tax cuts and set the stage for 100,000 new jobs. In a state where all other systems are go, uncertainty is a job killer, too.

Tom Stemberg, founder and former CEO of Staples Inc., is managing general partner of the Highland Consumer Fund and a member of the Job Creators Alliance.