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JOSH MABUS — Hand in hand, small business and industry

JOSH MABUS

JOSH MABUS

There seems to be a debate in many cities, in our own state and across the country. Do we invest in small businesses, which employ lots of people as a group but are individually volatile and have lower economic impacts? Or do we invest in attracting corporations, which can be demanding and hard to come by?

We often talk about small business and large-scale employers as if they are mutually exclusive. It’s a debate as old as time. Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Our nation is home to somewhere around 26 million small businesses, which make up 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. job creation, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

Small business accounts for the most job creation because of the shear number of small businesses. Their sizes allow them to be more agile and make incremental hires. Those hires, when multiplied 26 million times, have a huge national impact.

Aside from job creation, there is an even simpler reason communities should invest in small businesses. Small businesses can serve as the backbone for a community, shaping the community’s culture. When you invest in small businesses, you wind up with a downtown, an entertainment district and a service industry.

Should we ignore large manufacturing operations looking for a place to expand? Absolutely not. Those large companies help put communities of small businesses on the map. They help financially anchor and bring large-scale investment to a community. They also hire the employees who patronize our small businesses and keep their doors open.

After all, everyone — from executives (and their families) to line workers — loves a local place to grab a beer, a kitschy store for home décor or a non-big-box retailer to shop for clothes.

Similarly, a vibrant small business community makes the larger community much more attractive to corporations and manufacturers.

Without small business, big business employees have fewer places to shop or take their kids for fun. Without a boutique home décor shop, coffee shop and a main street café, the employees have a reduced incentive to attach to a community. Without a thriving small business economy, large-scale employers have trouble recruiting and retaining talent.

See, we don’t have to choose between the chicken and the egg here. We need both.  When they’re in balance, magic can happen.

Austin, Texas is brought up in economic development conversations a lot. It’s a city growing faster than its infrastructure can handle. Big development foundations cite the city for its ability to attract corporate headquarters, and entrepreneurs flock to it as a place of inspiration and support.

We don’t talk about Austin because of Dell, Whole Foods, 3M or Apple. And we don’t talk about Austin because of its thriving entrepreneur culture — even though it continues to impress and grow.

We talk about Austin because its small business community supports the corporations whose headquarters and regional offices are in the city, and its corporate employees support the city’s small businesses.

We can concentrate on one extreme or the other. However, at the end of the day, that will leave us with an empty industrial park or a downtown that looks like a set piece from AMC’s hit show, The Walking Dead.

As members of our community, we can support our cities’ and regions’ small businesses with our patronage. As entrepreneurs, we owe it to the economic health of our communities to establish and grow our own businesses — no matter the size.

Mississippi is a great place to start a small business, where startup costs are lower than other states. As a small business owner myself, I’ve found the communities are supportive, the workforce is eager and entrepreneurs play a significant part in the economic development picture in their communities.

As for the large-scale employers needed to support our businesses, Mississippi has been an increasingly popular destination for expanded manufacturing operations.

So the next time we wonder what comes first, the vibrant community or the big job creators — the chicken or the egg — let’s agree it’s the wrong argument. You need chickens to make eggs and eggs to make chickens.

» Josh Mabus is president and CEO of The Mabus Agency

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