The spirit of entrepreneurship thrives locally and nationally

I watched a four-part series titled The Men Who Built America on the History Channel recently, and was fascinated.

Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Ford were five men who literally built modern America. All were entrepreneurs. Their monetary wealth was beyond comprehension to most people. They made more than they could ever spend. Their vision to do more to make and build more so the public can be better served was amazing to see. All were fierce competitors. They wanted to outsmart, outbuild and create more wealth than the others.

 

WHAT WAS SO fascinating to me is that each did build on one another, in terms of creating and visualizing the “next big thing” the human population needed to move forward.

I heard in another documentary on the same channel – America, the Story of Us – that in 1840 the word “millionaire” was invented by an entrepreneur.

Watching the fascination of J.P. Morgan and his invited guests one evening, when the electric light switch was turned on in the first house in America, was pretty cool to see. We have all experienced electricity when walking into our homes or places of business. But in the 1800s, that was a very big deal.

Rockefeller was known for oil. He founded the Standard Oil Co.

Carnegie was known for steel.

Morgan was known for his domination in the financial and banking industry.

Vanderbilt was known for railroads and shipping.

Ford was known for building a vehicle that the common man could afford to purchase – the Model T.

Each of these men built their massive empires, but kept their eyes on the others, while constantly looking for an edge. Yet, all were connected because one industry couldn’t function effectively and efficiently without the other. And America was built as a result. If you haven’t seen the series, which is available on DVD, I highly recommend it.

The Augusta region has more than 10,000 small businesses that represent every corner of commerce you can imagine. According to the U.S. government, small businesses historically have provided more than 50 percent of all jobs and 64 percent of all net new jobs. Small businesses especially are crucial in inner cities, where they make up 99 percent of all establishments and 80 percent of all jobs.

 

THE REALITY, however, is that half of small businesses fail within the first five years of start-up. There are many reasons for that. But what is encouraging to me is that many of those failed businesses will regroup and try again. And then there are people who do not allow that statistic to stop them from starting businesses themselves.

I salute the efforts of people who take the risk in starting businesses. They are opening up all around the city. Have you noticed? Unfortunately, some people focus so much on the boarded-up buildings or others that have been closed for some time, rather than championing the new businesses opening up next door. I believe in looking at the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. And I’m not insensitive to the fact that we have much work to do when it comes to small-business economic development.

There are so many resources for small businesses, and many of them can be found at www.sba.gov and www.mbda.gov. Locally we have the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center. Augusta-Richmond County has a Small Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department. Some of our area lending institutions advertise they are small-business lenders.

According to a research commissioned by American Express in 2012, female entrepreneurs increased by 34 percent over the past 15 years. I was very pleased to see that Georgia ranks No. 2 in the top 10 states for female entrepreneurs.

 

ANOTHER STUDY released in April ranks Georgia No. 9 in the top 10 best states to start a business. The study measured five aspects of policy including exports and international trade, entrepreneurship and innovation, business climate, talent pipeline and infrastructure. U.S. states were ranked for their performance in each category. Also, the study measured and ranked overall economic climate and growth in each state.

Augusta has received a designation from the Georgia Department of Economic Development of an “Entrepreneur Friendly Community.” What does that mean for Augusta and small business?

“Conceivably, it could benefit future business in a couple of ways,” said Anthony Robinson, assistant professor of marketing, management and entrepreneurship at Georgia Regents University’s Hull School of Business. “First, having attributes/resources that attract businesses could help to grow the number of small businesses. In essence, people may find it easier to start a business here and/or to move a business here since the environment is suitable for sustaining a small business.

“Second, there is a marketing benefit associated with the designation. Being placed on that list suggests that more people – e.g., current and future business owners – could come to realize that Augusta is an attractive place to have a small business,” Dr. Robinson said. “This is beneficial since perception is often interpreted as reality. The designation also implies that existing small businesses should be sustainable in the Augusta area. Additionally, some small businesses may grow in such a healthy business environment – i.e., one with the designation.”

Dr. Robinson shared some of this and much more at the relaunch of South Augusta Business@Breakfast meeting recently. The popular breakfast meeting, designed for business owners, and business and community leaders, is held at 7:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday at the Holiday Inn on Gordon Highway.

As an entrepreneur and small-business owner for 21 years and having experienced successes and failures, on many different levels, I think small-business owners too often are taken for granted. They struggle to stay alive to provide a service or product for consumers while having to compete
with the “big boys” – the big-box national chains or conglomerates – yet many persevere.

When an announcement is made about a new company coming to Augusta and that 100-plus jobs will be created, there is a celebration. Rightly so.

But what about the small-business owner who opened up in a part of the city that most large companies might find undesirable, and they now employ two people who may have been out of work for the past 13 months? No fanfare for that small-business owner. But what if those 10,000 small businesses hired two people in July 2013? Now the headlines could read “20,000 new jobs created in Augusta-Richmond County.” Wow!

Economic opportunities and economic development are abundant among small businesses and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are hard workers, independent, risk-takers, passionate and for the most part they really love what they do – whether they are making money or not. They are not looking for handouts, but opportunities – whether that is from local, state or federal government or opportunities to provide products and services to the larger companies.

If you haven’t patronized a small business in your community lately because it’s become a habit to shop at a larger store, why don’t you try it one day? Sure, their prices might be a little more than you’re accustomed to, but why not make the sacrifice this time? Who knows – you probably have relatives and/or friends who work at one of these small businesses.

Some of the things we take for granted today, such as electricity, industrial cotton production, automobiles, airplanes, trains – I can go on and on – were imagined, visualized, realized and built by people who started out as entrepreneurs and small-business owners. That is pretty exciting to think about, because no matter how large a business has become, it started out as a small business.

Good or bad, rich or poor – I always will be a champion for entrepreneurship and small business.

 

(The writer is an entrepreneur, author, youth advocate and mental health advocate in Augusta.)

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