Let's play a game for a moment. Pretend that tomorrow, all the small businesses in the United States have disappeared.
This isn't a fun game, because if that scenario somehow happened, it would be the equivalent of the entire nation being hit by an economic nuclear bomb. Excluding government workers, roughly half the nation's employment force, not to mention a ton of entrepreneurs, would be unemployed. And good luck finding work in the near future; annually, 60 to 80 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses.
In our hypothetical scenario, few new industries would surface; approximately 14 times more patents per employee are produced at small businesses than at large patenting firms.
And just try getting a break at a soup kitchen-small businesses contribute millions of dollars each year to their communities. According to a recent survey by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, a research firm that specializes in social and policy work, 91 percent of businesses with four to 99 employees support local charities and groups.
Individually, many small businesses don't appear to have much clout, but together, they are the engine and soul of the nation's economy and emotional well-being. So in honor of National Small Business Week (May 17 to 21), we're paying tribute to three small enterprises that epitomize the most significant elements of entrepreneurs' awesome power: the ability to innovate, to create jobs and to give back to the community.
These entrepreneurs are more than a symbol of the power of small business; they're the reflection we see when we look in the mirror.
Where the Jobs Are
None of the five entrepreneurs at Platinum Select Staffing is running for president. That should make both George W. Bush and John Kerry breathe a sigh of relief. After all, Platinum Select would have quite a job-creation platform-and job creation is in the news an awful lot these days, with companies outsourcing talent to countries overseas, unemployment remaining steady, and hiring at low levels.
The Dallas firm, with projected 2004 revenues of $23 million, is a staffing company-sending everyone from nurses to anesthesiologists to work at hospitals and other medical facilities around the country. "In this market, a lot of companies are more [apt] to cut benefits and perks than to provide them. That's a direction we've really tried not to go in, because we do value the employees," says Stephanie Martinez, vice president and chief marketing officer. "When the market turns [and jobs are easier to find], that's how we're going to keep our edge." Martinez adds that in the future, Platinum Select will expand into staffing professional positions, clerical jobs and the IT sector.
Of course, as CEO Patrick Aunkst points out, the hospitals are creating the jobs; Platinum Select is simply guiding the right people to the source. But the firm is aiding in job creation directly as well as indirectly-after all, the better a partner Platinum Select is to the medical community, the more jobs it creates within its own walls. In July 2001, Platinum Select had only five employees: Aunkst, 37; Kristi Bomar, 30, CFO; Martinez, 30; Bob Quigley, 28, COO and vice president; and Lyle Seedig, 28, chief administrative officer. Now they have 22 people working for them, and another 130 staffed in hospitals. By 2011, Aunkst plans to have a sales staff 192 strong and approximately 3,000 employees working at facilities around the country.
But it's not just Platinum Select-every entrepreneur can feel good about what they're doing for the economy, according to Gerry Murak, author of the recent business-improvement book Straight Line Into the Turn (Cameo Publishers) and a consultant with 30 years of experience, specializing in turning troubled businesses into thriving ones. "By its very nature, entrepreneurship is all about job creation," says Murak. "As soon as entrepreneurs decide to go into business for themselves, they've created a job."
Murak also notes that a lot of entrepreneurs are indirectly creating jobs simply by giving their business to other companies. "But because the job creation isn't in huge numbers, it doesn't make the press. Even if you hire 100 folks in a couple of months, it's generally not newsworthy and won't hit the press's radar screen," he laments, adding that politicians rarely chase after entrepreneurs because of the small numbers.
But there's no denying entrepreneurs do influence the job market, something Aunkst says he hasn't given much thought. "We take [it] for granted," he says. "We're contributing to society almost without noticing."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.