Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid presented his party’s small business assistance program Tuesday, telling the audience at Calcalist’s annual conference that this sector holds the key to continued economic growth.

“Small businesses are the largest and fastest-growing sector in the Israeli economy,” Lapid said. They contribute around half of GDP, but they are an example of a collapsing Israeli middle class which nobody takes notice of.”

He continued, “Likud is in love with the large corporations, Labor is in love with large [workers’] committees, and the small businesses are left neglected. These businesses account for 55 percent of the labor force, they provide livelihoods for more families than the workers’ committees and the corporations. They are spread throughout the country, they hold the periphery on their back, and they are the best way to fight unemployment and poverty and to solve inequality.”

Under Yesh Atid’s program, an agency will be set up under the auspices of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which will rule on whether businesses are eligible to receive direct guarantees from the state. According to Lapid, this will force the banks to compete with each other to attract small businesses, replacing the current situation in which businesses owners must go “begging to the bank” for credit.

Each business will have access to consultants, who will assist them in obtaining licenses. Lapid promised the services would be cheaper and more efficient than those offered by existing bodies such as the MATI Small Business Development Centers. He said the first meeting would cost NIS 50, but most consultations would take place over the Internet or by telephone.

Finally, all business owners who have received assistance for two years or more will be asked to volunteer as advisers to the new small businesses who come after them.

Growth will come not from large corporations or workers’ committees, but from small businesses such as cosmeticians in Afula, carpenters in Ofakim and start-ups in Rishon Lezion that are created by graduates of IDF unit 8200, Lapid said.

“If somebody works as a cosmetician, and she discovers there are none in her neighborhood in Afula and that she has two friends who are looking for work, then she proposes opening a cosmetics store. But today there is nobody to help them,” Lapid said.

“There is nobody to provide her cheap credit, so she needs to mortgage her house; there is nobody to explain to her how to obtain a business license, and then she discovers very quickly that it will take her many months and cost her a lot of money to get past the bureaucracy, so that in the end she asks herself, ‘What do I need this for?’

“And the moment she says this, everything stops. The moment she says this, instead of creating another small engine of growth of the economy, instead of three independent and profitable women, what do we have? We have a salaried employee at minimum wage and two unemployed women presenting themselves at the employment bureau. And that is exactly the difference between an economy in crisis and a growing economy.”

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