It was sometimes overshadowed by personality and drama, but Donald Trump promised a number of major policy changes during his campaign.
His election as president Tuesday was followed Wednesday by a lot of speculation about which of those proposals will actually come to pass, and what they’d mean. Across the nation and the Capital Region, business people pondered Trump’s potential impact on everything from investment portfolios to gun ownership to health insurance to farm labor to, of course, taxes and regulations.
Brian Merriam, owner and president of Merriam Insurance Agency in Schenectady, was a supporter of Trump and is excited about what the real estate mogul can do for business in America. The common problem with politicians, he said, is that most are creating budgets with no experience running a business. Business people know that they must create the resources to pay expenses, he said, while politicians need only turn to taxpayers to pick up the bill.
As a businessman, Merriam said of Trump, “There are at least three rather serious advantages that he offers.” He understands resource creation and staying within budget; he’s an outsider who hasn’t spent a career working to advance through the power structure in Washington; and he understands the need for collaboration and delegation.
Merriam concedes that Trump’s public persona runs directly counter to this last point, but he thinks Trump has the ability to delegate and collaborate to make things happen.
“I was pretty certain he’d lose because of that bombastic nature of his,” he said.
As an insurance agent, Merriam is hoping to see the Affordable Care Act revoked or at least substantially revised, saying its costs are unsustainable.
Within a year of ACA being approved, he bought out three competitors who didn’t think they could operate in the new environment.
“I’m really hoping that he will do as he promised and get rid of the mandate,” Merriam said. “I’m hoping that will be one of the first things I’ll see from the insurance man’s point of view.”
Merriam Insurance employs 25 and has clients in 47 states. Trump will be the 22nd president in the agency’s 121-year history.
FEAR OF LOST PROGRESS
Less enthused about Trump’s presidency is Rose Miller, president and owner of Pinnacle Human Resources, a 19-person Albany-based HR consulting and support firm.
She’s worried about the Trump presidency both for its effects on jobs, if he triggers a recession, and its effects on workers, if his behavior encourages an atmosphere where sexual harassment thrives or if he succeeds in revoking the reforms that have given many workers health insurance for the first time.
“During the last Republican president, it was a disaster,” Miller said. “No one had any money to spend, no one was hiring, people were losing their jobs. A bad economy hurts all businesses, particularly small businesses.”
She said she’s seen a lot of progress under Obama, for the economy in general and for her business in particular.
“We’re having a record year. Things are good.”
Miller said Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act has been unfairly maligned. “I’m here to tell you, we saw a lot of good come out of it ... I’m fearful of Affordable Care being repealed.”
Like others, she doesn’t know which of Trump’s promises will become reality, and which ones were even seriously offered.
“How this translates this to workers remains to be seen. We don’t know if it was all rhetoric to win or whether he’s going to do some of these scary things.”
Trump’s documented history of ribald comments and alleged history of physical harassment are another problem for Miller, particularly as a female entrepreneur.
“I’m really worried about how people will digest what is allowed now, and bring that into work,” she said.
Two Capital Region investment advisers said they did not see a rush from panicked clients after the election, which caused some gyrations in foreign financial markets.
“We’ve had virtually no calls,” said John Fox, chief investment officer at Fenimore Asset Management in Cobleskill. “Probably the reason for that is the market is up over 1 percent.”
“Whether people are excited or not depends on who they were rooting for,” he said, but looking at their investment portfolios Wednesday, they weren’t panicked.
“We have a lot of stocks up 3, 4, 5 percent today,” Fox said.
The weeks and months ahead will see some stock market volatility, both up and down, he predicted. With Republicans holding both houses of Congress, there’s potential to reduce gridlock and get more things accomplished. Countering this is the potential that some of those things getting accomplished may not be what people expected.
Kerry Mayo, portfolio manager at Capital Financial Advisors of New York, said the Clifton Park firm had reached out to clients before the election about its potential impact but didn’t have clients reaching out to the firm afterward — probably because the U.S. stock market jumped Wednesday morning.
“We haven’t really seen any real concern, because of the markets,” Mayo said. “The bond market is getting crushed but the stock market is up.”
He also noted that Trump’s words before the markets opened Wednesday had a calming influence: “The tone of his speech last night helped, eased fears.”
Mayo said there are potential market dips and jumps ahead as Trump announces specific policy initiatives and names Cabinet members to carry them out. “Spending on infrastructure, tax cuts, those are good for the stock market. Maybe not for the bond market.”
Mayo said the strategy now is to wait for these changes.
“Our advice and our plan is to buy when there is a dip” in the stock market, he said.
As the investment advisers were having a quiet day, a Rotterdam gun shop was thoroughly busy.
John Affinito, an employee of Gunsmoke Trading Post and operator of a training program there, said a steady stream of foot traffic and phone calls started as soon as they opened for business.
There is an excitement in the firearm-owning community, he explained, “Now that we have a friendly face in Washington, as far as firearm ownership and the Second Amendment.”
Business has been strong for more than a year for gun retailers in general and Gunsmoke in particular, he said, as people moved to get guns and ammunition in advance of a potential Hillary Clinton presidency, in response to the New York SAFE Act gun control measures, and because of a general sense that the world is an unsafe place.
“Our gun sales have been phenomenal,” Affinito said. “We were up 40 percent in the last 18 months.”
He expects sales to remain strong in the environment created by Trump’s election.
LABOR AND MARKETS
Two other priorities for Trump, immigration control and trade tariffs, have a direct potential impact on a large Capital Region industry: agriculture.
Farmers don’t want to be priced out of foreign markets for their products by a trade war. Also, they rely heavily on workers who are not American citizens. The possibility that those workers may not be here legally, despite possessing seemingly valid paperwork, is daunting to farmers who might suddenly lose part of their work force.
New York Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric was worrisome but his actions have been reassuring to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Donald Trump actually called and spoke to the board of directors ... and essentially was open to working together on these issues.”
The industry group will continue to advocate for farmers through whatever proposals emerge from the new administration, Ammerman said.
“We do have needs and we’re not going to step away from promoting what our farmers want or need — the ability to have a workforce as well as to have markets to sell what they grow.”
Farmers need to have access to non-citizen labor, Ammerman said: “An enforcement-only immigration policy would be a disaster for agriculture. A lot of Americans don’t want to work on farms. It’s long hours, it’s hard work. The wages are competitive, but still it’s long hours and hard work. A lot of people don’t want to do that these days.”
New Scotland orchard owner Peter Ten Eyck II is among those who relies on foreign workers. His year-round employees are Americans, but for the short, labor-intensive apple-picking season at his Indian Ladder Farms, he brings in Jamaican laborers under the federal H2A program. It costs him more than $1,000 per worker, and then at least $11.76 per hour to employ them. And he doesn’t think he can operate without them.
“It’s really hard to get Americans to do the jobs we do here,” he said, adding that his foreign workers are thoroughly vetted by U.S. officials and not a security or immigration threat.
“These folks are not interested in living here,” Ten Eyck said. “They come up here, they earn some cash wages, and they go home.”
He characterized his politics as right of center, but said Trump lost his support early on with rude remarks about primary opponent Carly Fiorina. Now that Trump will be president, Ten Eyck hopes for a less-divided country and some progress on the issues facing it.
“I’m hoping that we can support our government.”
That is likely a common opinion in the business community Trump’s transition team takes shape and his agenda is mapped out.
The Capital Region Chamber supports growing the economy, building infrastructure and investing in inner cities, said Tom O’Connor, its director of government relations.
“However, the devil is always the details.”
Reach Gazette Business Editor John Cropley at 395-3104, [email protected] or @cropjohn on Twitter.