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Battling through the recession
Battling through the recession
Artistic Kitchen and Bath's staff

Artistic Kitchen and Bath
Southern Pines, N.C.
Health care: 8 employees, all on COBRA insurance paid for by the company

John Wilson wrote to the President because his cabinetry and interior design business could not get the financing it desperately needed to survive the recession. In response, Wilson got an invitation to Obama's White House small business forum in March, at which the President outlined government initiatives to increase small business lending.

Obama recounted Wilson's story of the toll the downtown took on his company, NC Design Group. "John just told the group of us that he personally took the time to speak to each and every person that he had to lay off," Obama said. "And I don't think he minds me sharing that he cried each time he did it, because it's a hard thing when somebody is working hard and committed to helping you build your business, you having to lay them off."

Wilson and his partners decided that they only way to save their company was to chop it up.

Soon after meeting with Obama, Wilson spun off one-third of the business to start his own company, Artistic Kitchen and Bath. Breaking the business up seemed to offer the best chance for gaining access to credit -- and it worked. Wilson landed a government-backed loan to refinance his portion of the company.

Wilson's eight workers are currently on COBRA insurance, carried over from the coverage they used to have with NC Design Group. Wilson reimburses his workers for the majority of their COBRA coverage costs. He also provides dental insurance.

When the COBRA coverage expires, Wilson plans to pay for health insurance for his employees. Despite the rising costs, he doesn't view it as optional: "I will never look back about our decision to provide insurance for our employees," he says. "I have family in the business -- my son-in-law, my daughter, my wife owns the business. I have another daughter who is part-time, I have a nephew, and the other two are part owners -- we all have a vested interest."

Right now, Wilson pays 80% of the cost of premiums and puts an additional $50 per month into a Health Savings Account for each employee. The bill adds up to $350 to $400 per employee, per month.

"It is the biggest expense other than salaries and wages," Wilson says. For some small business, the cost of health care can be "almost as large as your rent."

NEXT: 'Try to remain healthy'

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LAST UPDATE: Jan 11 2010 | 2:14 PM ET
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