Entrepreneur in Chief

Feb 17, 2012

Entrepreneurship is an American ideal. The Founding Fathers recognized that America’s great promise was the freedom of its citizens to start their own enterprises and pursue their dreams free from an overreaching government. On President’s Day, we celebrate America’s past and present leaders. But which presidents should small business owners celebrate?

Many of the nation’s founders were themselves entrepreneurs. George Washington owned a fishery, built a flour mill, and created a large and successful whiskey distillery. Ben Franklin owned his own printing business, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other things. Entrepreneurship is in the American DNA.

With that in mind, Entrepreneur.com polled historians, policy experts, and small business owners to get their take on the friendliest small business presidents. Here are the top four: 

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933—1945): Roosevelt claims the top spot on the Entrepreneur.com list for small businesses for his efforts to “ensure that small businesses received their share of government contracts” in the New Deal and during World War II. Although he claimed the top spot, Zoltan Acs of the George Mason University Center for Entrepreneurship noted that a large part of the business community opposed Roosevelt because of his expansion of the government and influx of new regulations.

2. Bill Clinton (1993—2001): Clinton earned high marks for ushering in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and for making tax cuts available to 90 percent of small businesses. Clinton’s record may have received a boost from the dot-com explosion, but he still gets credit for presiding “over the country during the longest period of peace-time economic expansion in American history.”

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953—1961): The Small Business Administration exists today because of Eisenhower and his motivation may have been spreading democracy, and at the time, the thought was company diversity would encourage competition and democracy. "The establishment of the SBA had nothing to do with economics. It was about economic freedom," Acs said.

4. Ronald Reagan (1981—1989): The Gipper makes the list for his efforts to trim taxes and regulations, but also for launching the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which reserves a portion of federal research and development funds for small businesses. Entrepreneur.com notes that, despite his pro-small business policies, Reagan fell to number four because of his attempt to shut down the SBA in 1985.

To read more, including the presidents Entrepreneur.com considers the least friendly to small business, click here. Happy President’s Day!

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