Friday, December 12, 2014

Small Business

You might remember a Nebraskan named Jim Clifton, the head of the Gallup organization. When I visited with Jim recently in Washington, he told me about some fascinating new statistics from his book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder. One important—and alarming—figure showed that the small business birth rate is lower than the death rate. In other words, we are entering an entrepreneurial winter.

The market works at its best in the microenterprise sector. Small businesses embody the values that are essential for a healthy and humane economy: competition and collaboration, innovation and interdependency, hard work and responsibility. In a marketplace with a vibrant small business ecosystem, people with ideas, talents, and willingness to take risks can translate dreams into realities and receive the just rewards of a job well done. They launch ventures and in turn hire others—a constructive cycle that creates most jobs in our country.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial efforts have suffered since the 2008 financial crisis. In the aftermath of that seismic market disruption, big businesses have fared much better than smaller entities, which confront the dual challenges of government overreach and globalization. Regulations disproportionately harm small businesses, decreasing the nation’s capacity to generate opportunity and harming the financial prospects of many families.

Rebuilding a market that delivers widespread opportunity and ownership requires a secure foundation: a revivified small business landscape. Bigger entities can naturally result from economies of scale and make a major contribution to our wellbeing, but our attention must be refocused on smaller competitors. Empowering new ventures to succeed must be the focal point of efforts to enhance the market. Small businesses are driven by talented, motivated individuals who deeply own—in the full sense of the word—the work of their hands. Persons who start their own local companies are excited by their work, integrated into their communities, and provide opportunities for others.

While other areas of the country have lost jobs, Nebraska has maintained a strong entrepreneurial subculture. There is a fascinating array of small tech startups, ag ventures, and manufacturers in our state. For young people, encouraging initiatives are directing entrepreneurial talent and developing natural skills and abilities, including the 4-H Entrepreneurial Program, the Lincoln Public Schools partnership with Southeast Community College, the Future Business Leaders of America, and Junior Achievement, among others. But there is a gap. As Jim Clifton points out, we do a great job of measuring athletic talent and intellectual giftedness. We do not measure the potential for entrepreneurial achievement, which is a measurement that cuts across race and gender. Our economic success depends on it.

Washington should take notice. America’s government must advance public policies that encourage and support small business owners. But legislation alone is not the answer. The keys to entrepreneurial success include proper formation, access to capital, technology, other persons who can help businesses succeed—and of course a demand for the product. Using these keys to unlock the dynamism of our small business sector will reinforce robust local economies, galvanizing community interdependence and refilling our social capital bank account.


JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus.

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

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