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Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, looks up as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about government reform at the White House in Washington January 13, 2012. Mr. Obama announced he is elevating the SBA to a cabinet-level agency.


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U.S. President Barack Obama said today that he will raise the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position.

It's part of a broader plan to merge the SBA with five other government offices as a single, streamlined agency, according to this Wall Street Journal report and this report from The Washington Post.

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The president asked Congress to give him the power to consolidate six federal agencies including the SBA as well as the Commerce Department, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Trade and Development Agency, the Post reported.

He is elevating SBA director Karen Mills to a cabinet-level position, but Mr. Obama did not specifiy whether she would have higher authority or additional responsibilities in the elevated position.

The president said that Ms. Mills had done "an outstanding job" leading the agency, and would "make sure that small-business owners have their own seat at the table in our cabinet meetings," the Journal report said.

One reason for the move, the Journal said, was to counter perceptions that small business was being slighted in the reorganization.

The merger is designed to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses and save money by eliminating duplicate government functions; it would cut more than 1,000 jobs and save about $3-billion over the next decade, the Post reported.

With a single agency, "we'd have one department where entrepreneurs can go from the day they come up with an idea and need a patent, to the day they start building a product and need financing for a warehouse, to the day they're ready to export and need help breaking into new markets overseas," the Post reported that Mr. Obama told small businesses leaders at the White House.

Franchise opportunities pop up for every budget

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Fresh-popped snack seller Doc Popcorn is a fast-growing franchise company, with 54 outlets opened in the past five years and another 200 in development. One A secret to its success: from mobile carts to full-scale stores, franchisees can buy their way into the company in a variety of models to suit their budget, according to this story in The Wall Street Journal.

And that, according to the Journal story, is a "fast-growing trend" in franchising, with more companies offering more business models at different price points.

With tight credit and cautious investors, this flexibility has become key to expansion, according to the story.

Doc Popcorn franchises invest up to $150,000 to open a store, versus $100,000 for a mall kiosk or $70,000 for a mobile cart, the story says. Similarly, the Huntington Learning Center tutoring service offers two models of investment to potential franchisees.

One consultant warns in the story, however, that franchisers offering tiered models run the risk of losing control of their brand image, with some features not necessarily working well in every kind of setting.

And some franchisees that have invested heavily in, say, a standalone store, may not take well to others selling the same brand, especially if rivals, from a cheaper mobile cart, the story also warns.

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Canada falls in entrepreneurial opportunity ranking

Canada fell from from second place in 2011 to sixth place in 2012 in the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI), a ranking that compares the entrepreneurial characteristics of 79 nations, identifying the entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses of their economies.

It might not feel like the conditions would pave the way, but the United States ranked as the best place to start a business -- mostly because, while entrepreneurship has fallen in most countries, it fell less there, the report said.The U.S. still had a long way to go to make up lost ground, calling it "a society in distress," and saying that "does not bode well for entrepreneurship."

The report also noted that the world as a whole is "operating at about 30 per cent of its entrepreneurial capacity," and said "drivers of entrepreneurship have deteriorated" around the globe.

The rest of the top ten included Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and Norway, with the Netherlands and Taiwan tied for tenth place.

For a more detailed look at the report, click here.

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Perks of working for a small business

There are many good reasons to choose a small employer over a big one. What's so good about working for a small business? This piece lists five, including having more of a voice; greater independence; learning on the job; less red tape and more flexibility; and, great fodder for your resume.


Move above the radar

Want to be among the startups to pitch at Under the Radar, an innovation showcase and deal-making forum? You have until Jan. 20 to apply to be among the emerging startups fthat get to present to top IT executives wanting to team up with and acquire new technologies for the next conference being held April 25 and 26 under the sun in Mountain View, Calif.. For more information, click here.

Cast your best small business-book award nomination

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Make your nomination for the best small business book award being sponsored by Small Business Trends, which recognizes business books relevant to small businesses and entrepreneurs. You can put forth any number of books, including your own; eligible books were published between Nov. 10, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011. Nominations close on Jan. 31 and voting will take place between Feb. 1 and Feb. 16. For more information, click here.


Car dealer test-drives Twitter promotion

This week's Case Study: Schlueter Automotive Group has rejuvenated its marketing efforts with an online strategy that includes asking customers to test-drive cars and tweet about their experience.


Lifelong dream takes flight

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Flying has been in Dax Wilkinson's blood ever since he took his first flight in a bush plane at the family cottage as a child. Now his business, Red Canoe National Heritage Brands Inc., which is also largely devoted to aviation, has given him the means to realize his lifelong dream of owning his own plane, according to a story that was part of our "Splurge" series last June. Also check out the accompanying photo gallery of his plane.

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