Building Main Street, not Wall Street: Best community bet is small business

John Newby

John Newby

Nia Peeples once said, "Life is a moving, breathing thing. We have to be willing to constantly evolve. Perfection is in fact, constant transformation."

Recently a good friend passed along a report entitled, "Where Our Jobs Come From." The author of this piece, Don Macke, from the Center of Rural Entrepreneurship, pointed out several items every small or mid-sized community and media company across the country should note.

Here are a few statistics to think about:

1) Between 2006-16, 48 million net new jobs were created. This is a 31% increase in jobs over this period of time.

2) Stage 1 businesses (business from one to nine employees) and Stage 2 businesses (businesses with 10-99 employees) accounted for a full 95% of those 48 million jobs.

3) Stage 3 businesses (businesses from 100-499 employees) created 2.6 million jobs or the other 5%.

4) Stage 4 businesses (500+ employees) lost a million jobs in that same time period.

While figures can at times present a false narrative, the above figures create a very compelling argument for hopping aboard the small business and entrepreneurship bandwagon. Numbers tell us placing our eggs in the basket of only courting large or even medium manufacturing and like businesses are going against the odds as the deck is firmly stacked against your community succeeding in this quest.

With over 10,000 communities across the country courting these larger businesses, your odds of success are less than 2% of actually landing one. And those are the communities far advanced in the courtship game.

Put another way, the odds of securing one of these large businesses are like the odds of winning the national lottery. Additionally, those communities depending on this type of employer are setting themselves up to experience great loss when these businesses leave due to better offers, better tax incentives, off-shoring, moving or even shutdown.

The above numbers are worth their weight in gold to communities that understand and build their future success on the reality of what is taking place in the overall economy.

Don Macke also indicates that over the next generation, between a third and a half of all workers will be self-employed and/or part of this new gig economy which will be highly out-sourced and entrepreneurial in nature. This was before COVID-19 which has only sped up this transition.

Knowing these statistics should weigh heavily on how your community proceeds in building your community's infrastructure, your downtowns and your commercial zones.

Imagine your community right now with a third or even a half of the workforce self-employed. What would you be doing differently as you plan for the future if you knew this today? Would you be subsidizing new commercial space such as malls or large developments which may actually become albatrosses of the future?

Instead, you might think about high-speed fiber, Wi-Fi locations or smaller office suites. These could be entrepreneur or innovation suites where multiple businesses or the self-employed might be able to locate with minimal space needs sharing the essential office services needed. Forward thinking communities might even provide financial or tax incentives for this up and coming workforce that will drive them to your community.

The future is rapidly approaching. The signs of the current glut of big boxes, malls and chains have been showing the chinks in their armor for years. COVID-19 is highlighting or accelerating these chinks across the country today. Communities clinging to the traditional revitalization strategies are destined for a bleak and blighted future.

Those communities fortunate to still have large employers are blessed. Treat them well as that adds to the balance in your community. Communities seeking to find their way in this challenging economic climate, the numbers are overwhelming telling you small and medium sized business development is the direction to be going.

It is no secret America was built on the backs of small businesses. Small business has always been the road map to sustainable community success. Communities with the innovative mentality and attitude of the entrepreneurial spirit can survive, while other communities that rely on manufacturing and big companies may wither on the vine with the next economic blow or recession.

The future of your community and future generations rest in the hands of the decisions you make today!

-- John A. Newby, author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street " column assists communities and their local media companies combine synergies allowing them to not just survive, but thrive in a world where truly-local is lost to Amazon, Wall Street chains and others. His email at: