When tire dealer Lupe Garcia sat down recently to discuss business issues with a group of fellow small business owners, he found himself in rather august company.
Seated around the table were luminaries such as Jack Faris, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, George Herrera, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administrator Hector Barreto, and Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business Survival Committee.
And taking notes at the head of the table was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mr. Garcia, owner of Lupe Garcia Tires L.L.C, a three-store dealership in suburban Santa Fe, was part of a small business roundtable at President Bush's economic forum held Aug. 13 at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
``It was a very energetic experience,'' Mr. Garcia said when asked about the meeting. ``There were lots of talented people there.''
In general, the group discussed ``what government can do and shouldn't do'' to help small business owners, Mr. Garcia said. Among the specifics addressed were affordable healthcare, government regulations and finding and retaining qualified employees.
When given his opportunity to address the meeting, Mr. Garcia said he spoke out on the labor issue, saying he believed government and business need to look at labor like marriage, to treat it like marriage.
``I expressed my concern that so many new hires today don't have a work ethic,'' he said.
In particular, Mr. Garcia said small businesses in the Santa Fe area compete with the government-like the state government or the Los Alamos National Laboratory-for good workers.
``It's hard to find and keep good entry-level employees,'' Mr. Garcia said, ``and I'm not talking about minimum wage either.
``We pay $7 an hour for entry level, but so few stay on even the six to 12 months it takes to become a skilled journeyman and move up to $9 or $10 an hour.''
Mr. Garcia's invitation came no doubt because of his support of and work for the Republican Party in New Mexico. A long-time supporter of Sen. Pete V. Domenici, Mr. Garcia found himself sharing the stage at one point during the 2000 presidential campaign with then- Texas Gov. George W. Bush, while still wearing the Garcia Tire polo shirt he had worn that day to work.
After the various breakout sessions in the morning, Mr. Garcia said, delegates were able to socialize and network with each other at both formal meetings and informal receptions.
For the record, the White House said the meeting brought together government policy makers, small investors, small business owners, industry experts, teachers, workers, business ethicists, union members, corporate executives, economists, business students, academics, researchers and others to discuss the fundamentals of the economy, and the President's agenda to increase economic growth for the future.
``The President believes that economic freedom is the foundation for individual success and prosperity,'' the White House said in a prepared statement about the summit. ``The President's economic agenda invests in people by creating jobs, expanding opportunities to save and invest, providing a good education and helping each American own part of the American dream.''
Mr. Garcia started into the tire business 28 years ago, selling and mounting tires part time to supplement his income as teacher.
In 1979 he quit teaching to devote his full time to the tire business, eventually broadening his dealership to five stores.
Today, Mr. Garcia has three Garcia Tire outlets in New Mexico-in Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and Espanalo-and is co-owner with his brother Bernie of a Garcia Tire outlet in Las Vegas. A fifth location, in Taos, was sold.
Garcia Tire sells primarily Multi-Mile and some Goodyear tires and performs basic under-car services like alignment, brakes and shocks.
He has 30 employees and is active in commercial real estate as well.
Another issue Mr. Garcia is passionate about is the estate tax. At age 55, he's looking forward to retirement, and he's grooming his son and a nephew to take over the business.