Want a more vibrant community? Focus on small businesses!

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. I would add that this is very true of your local community. I read a report called “Where do our jobs come from”. Author Don Macke of the Center of Rural Entrepreneurship made a few observations that every small to medium-sized community in the country should take to heart. Here are some numbers to think about:

• Between 2006 and 2016, 48 million net new jobs were created. This is an impressive 31% increase in jobs over this roughly ten-year period.

• Stage 1 and 2 companies (companies with 1 to 99 employees) accounted for 95% of these 48 million jobs.

• Stage 3 companies (companies with 100 to 499 employees) created 2.6 million jobs or the remaining 5%.

• Stage 4 companies (more than 500 employees) lost one million jobs over the same period.

Although we don’t have studies showing the last 6-7 years, it’s safe to say that these numbers are still very relevant. It is true that numbers can sometimes present a false narrative. The numbers above create a very compelling argument to jump on board the small business and entrepreneurship bandwagon. Statistics and reality tell us that putting all our eggs in the basket of courting only large or medium-sized manufacturing-type companies goes against the grain. This quest is encountering a high percentage or a dose of failure. There are over 10,000 communities across the country courting these big companies. The chances of success are between 1% and 2% on the high side. Communities that are lucky in this courtship casino are usually advanced in their pursuit of infrastructure, building quality of life, and transforming their communities in other areas as well. For the most part, the odds are better to take the coffers in town and invest in lottery tickets. Additionally, communities that depend on this type of employer stand to suffer great losses when these businesses leave due to better deals, better tax incentives, relocations, relocations, or even closures.

The numbers above are invaluable information for communities to understand and build their future success on the reality of what is happening in the economy. Don Macke also indicates that over the next generation, between one-third and one-half of all workers will be self-employed and/or part of this new on-demand economy that will be heavily outsourced and entrepreneurial in nature. This was before covid-19 which only accelerated this transition. Knowing these stats should determine how your community proceeds with the construction of its infrastructure, town centers and commercial areas.

Imagine your community right now with a third or half of the workforce self-employed. How would you plan differently for the future knowing this today? Would you like to subsidize new commercial spaces such as shopping centers or large developments that could become albatrosses of the future? Instead, would you consider high-speed fiber, Wi-Fi locations, and small office suites? These can be entrepreneur or innovation suites where multiple businesses or freelancers might be able to set up shop with minimal space requirements sharing essential office services needed. Forward-thinking municipal leaders might consider offering financial or tax incentives to this promising workforce that draws them to your community.

The future is fast approaching. Signs of the current glut of big boxes, malls and chains have been showing cracks in their armor for years. Covid-19 has only accelerated these trends. Communities that cling to traditional revitalization strategies face a disappointing future. Communities that are blessed with large employers are blessed. Treat them well as it adds balance in your community. Communities seeking to find their way in this difficult economic climate, the numbers are overwhelming and tell you that small and medium business development is the way forward.

America was built on the backs of small businesses. Small businesses have always been the roadmap to sustainable community success. Communities with the innovative mindset and entrepreneurial attitude can survive while other communities that depend on manufacturing and big business can wither on the vine with every economic downturn or downturn. The future of your community and future generations rests in the hands of the decisions and efforts you make today!

— John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business and media consultant and speaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” column appears in many communities across the country. The founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to helping communities, creating excitement, energy and combining synergies with local media to improve their community. He can be reached at: [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.