Small businesses still the big — and best — idea

It’s probably easier in a place like the Grand Valley to a more accurately survey the landscape and recognize the fact most businesses are small businesses. That’s because small businesses fill the downtown shopping district, line thoroughfares like North Avenue and Patterson Road and populate manufacturing areas.

The journal you’re holding in your hands or reading online at this very moment is the product of a small business.

Did you also know, though, the situation isn’t much different elsewhere in the United States? Even in big cities?

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 99 percent of the businesses in the country are small businesses. By SBA definition, small businesses are firms with fewer than 500 employees. But of the 30.7 million businesses counted as small, about 24.8 million firms have no employees.

Big businesses tend to grab attention — the latest swings in stock prices or new faces in c-suites, come to mind. But small businesses collectively constitute even bigger business.

That’s important to keep in mind on so many levels, not the least of which include regulatory and tax policies. Small businesses aren’t just smaller versions of big businesses, they’re different. They face different challenges and have different needs. Moreover, there’s a temptation in economic development to try to recruit big businesses to an area when small businesses might constitute a better fit.

A story in this issue of the Business Times reports on the latest statistics about small businesses compiled by the SBA Office of Advocacy in its publication titled “Frequently Asked Questions About Small Business.” You can read all about it. But there are three highlights worth repeating here:

Small businesses employ nearly half the private sector workforce in the U.S.

Since 2000, small businesses have created 65 percent of net new jobs in the country.

Small businesses account for a third of the value of U.S. exports — nearly $430 billion worth, in fact.

The benefits of small businesses extend beyond those big numbers to something even more profound in providing the means to realize entrepreneurial dreams, drive innovation and help the communities in which they’re located.

Anyone with an idea for providing a better product or service who’s willing to work hard enough can go into business and, if they’re persistent and fortunate, make money doing so. In the process, they might hire others to help them or buy materials and products from other businesses. Remember, too: A lot of the biggest and most innovative businesses in existence started out as small businesses.

Even those small businesses that don’t make it big still play outsized roles in their communities in suppling needed products and services, providing jobs and supporting local causes.

By any calculation, small businesses collectively constitute big business. Moreover, small businesses remain a big — and, arguably, among the best — idea.