News Columns & Blogs

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Local small businesses have a story to tell

The editors were huddled in the newsroom early this year, mapping out a strategy for our staff’s enterprise journalism in 2010. We came through a tough 2009 as survivors. And we wanted to come up with a plan to focus on — maybe even foster — better times ahead in the community.

As we talked, we knew the same discussion was taking place in businesses everywhere. And, at least anecdotally, we knew that the most innovative, scrappiest ideas were coming from small businesses. As major corporations downsized and unemployment soared, more people were turning to those small business ideas.

Small local businesses are developing extraordinary ways to deal with the economy and be successful. And their stories need to be told, so we can learn from the best — both from their failures and their victories.

Business/Enterprise Editor Jennifer Rich outlined the series that we launched today on Page 1A: “Small Business: Making It Work.”

“The stories,” Rich explained, “will focus on what makes these businesses different from their competitors — how the change is working out in generating new revenue, customers, etc.; inject some of the owner’s personality and how that impacts his or her company; what big issues have they tackled along the way; what possible other changes were tried and didn’t work; what future plans or changes are being considered.”

The opportunities are vast. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, the almost 30 million small businesses in the United States:

n Employ just over half of the country’s private sector workforce

n Hire 40 percent of high-tech workers, such as scientists, engineers and computer workers

n Include 52 percent home-based businesses and 2 percent franchises

n Represent 97.3 percent of all the exporters of goods

n Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms

n Generate a majority of the innovations that come from U.S. companies

Business reporter Grace Gagliano is finding that resounding resilience throughout our community. A survey due out this week will show that the majority of our small businesses — roughly defined as those with fewer than 100 employees — made substantial changes in the past year to shake the economy’s choking grip.

Online, endless websites are devoted to small business strategies: “Starting a Business During Recession.” “How Do You Survive Starting a Business?” “Business Ideas for Tough Economic Times” and on and on.

We think we’ll find better tell-alls in real time here on the streets of Manatee County. From a coffee shop with karaoke, to a gas station selling bait and hot dogs, to a tool manufacturer getting into the pharmaceutical business — each one is determined to beat the odds.

The same stories are being found across the country. I discussed this series with McClatchy’s Washington Bureau Chief John Walcott. He, too, is convinced that small businesses hold the key.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau, working with the Herald and other McClatchy papers, will be paying attention to the role that small businesses are playing in creating jobs, innovative products and services and other value as the American economy climbs out of the recession.

Small businesses survive and thrive by rolling up their sleeves and going for the gusto. They think positive. They stand out in the crowd. And they give back to the community. That’s a fabulous story to tell.

Joan Krauter, Herald executive editor, can be reached at (941) 748-0411, ext. 2000.