By Frank J. Rich
Cross America and what do you see–small business, over 28 million of them. Their prodigious energy for enterprise is apparent by their variety and style. Each unto itself a jewel of uniqueness—a sign above the door, the décor inside, the watchful eye of the shopkeeper as you enter, he hoping to engage you in commerce, the very point in enterprise. They are everywhere—a service, a product, the least of both among the giant timbers that hide in marble cathedrals, and the most significant force when counted together.
What don’t you see “big business”? Oh, they’re evident, their stone and glass monuments imposing on the landscape, but you don’t really see them. Try it. Walk into a Microsoft office and ask a simple question … of the gatekeeper, a security guard. Despite the simple substance in the question you are likely to feel his quizzical stare, a look as though through you to discover the motive in your inquiry.
“What do you do here, you ask?”
“This is Microsoft,” comes the answer. It followed by a brochure to inform you, a URL address and an offer: “This should answer all your questions.” It doesn’t.
“May I speak to the owner, you ask?” unknowingly, he may be you, or your parents, whose portfolio makes you such.
“This is Microsoft; no owners work here,” he returns. Right again, just workers at this place, no one you can learn of their products from, or to present an opportunity. This is not a business you can feel, one can only see it, and from a distance.
Armed with research, made possible by similar behemoths whose share prices and profits have soared some 145 percent during The Great Recession, while you have scraped along battling rising costs and unable to raise your prices, you arch for battle.
You discover that your brethren of Main Street enterprises are a collective giant, accounting for ninety-nine percent of all businesses in America, and which employ more than 40 percent of all high-tech workers and create more than 60 percent of the non-farm GDP. You learn that 60-80 percent of all new jobs are created by small business, and that this is more by up to four times than big business adds.
You learn that small businesses develop 13 times more patents per employee than large firms. And these patents are twice as likely to be among the one percent most cited. That they are organizationally flat and able to move quickly and incisively in and out of markets, taking advantage of changes and innovation more nimbly than their distant cousins, big business.
You wonder aloud over their disrespect of you, thinking that small business is really the engine that drives the American economy, providing jobs for many who might otherwise be denied employment because of disability, discrimination, and credential. And, that businesses with 19 or fewer employees account for the majority of the country’s total businesses.
Why, you ask, has America turned its back on small business; that which grows communities and opportunity for all Americans? Big business has grown the value of the stock market 145 percent in the last 4-years. This, while small business has been burdened with luxury taxes for those earning $250,000 or more. They who work to create jobs, innovate better than large companies, move quickly and prodigiously to market having learned the art of “failing smart,” and who fail to see color, race, creed, or credential as obstacles—by a decision to join as brothers under the skin, and not by the force of the law that prohibits such profiling.
Will we wake to a new age in the years ahead, when America returns to its roots? Will enterprise well in us as it did in those before, for each according to his desire to make something from nothing? Perhaps, as spoken in a simple limerick, we will have put our confusion to rest and returned to a favored soul.