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Last November, Dan Belyeu made the toughest decision any entrepreneur can make: He decided to lay off all the employees at his Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, company, Innovex Kayak Corp. Although poor sales sparked by the recession and exacerbated by the effects of September 11 forced the layoffs, Belyeu isn't giving up on his company. Here, he explains why.
For 12 years, I owned a successful computer consulting firm. Our inventory was knowledge. We had no product, only advice and expertise. I believe we added a valuable service to our clients (and with billing rates up to $175 per hour, they must have thought so as well). Then one day it hit me: "You've got to make something. You've got to have a product. You can't move bits of information around and call that production. You have to give something back." Family and friends thought I had lost my mind when I sold my successful business to start a new company.
I am an entrepreneur, and we are the core of America. We are people who seek the path of most resistance. Defying all reason, we freely take ideas and turn them into products. Our only security is our faith in this great nation, which affords us the opportunity of freedom in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But during recent years, entrepreneurs seem to have taken a different path. Yes, many of us have jumped ship from providing services to manufacturing a product. But the overwhelming trend seems to have turned the other way--toward providing services. In an ever-shaky business environment, service is by far the safer place to be.
It has become harder and harder for entrepreneurs to manufacture products in this country. Frivolous litigation which demands more and different types of insurance, foreign competition with labor rates well below poverty levels, banks unwilling to take a chance on the backbone of America, more complex and ever-increasing corporate taxes--the list goes on and on. A part of me says, "Who needs the grief of manufacturing when you can make a nice living providing a service?"
Yes, there is grief in manufacturing--but something wonderful happens when products are made in America: Money circulates. It begins when you make that first product. You buy supplies and equipment from someone, and their company gets a little stronger. You hire people to put it together, and they go out and buy things. You sell your product to a store, and the store makes a few dollars and hires more clerks, who spend money. The sales rep who got the product to the store gets a commission check, and he or she circulates some of that money. Your business gets paid, makes more product and gets stronger. That one little product you manufactured has caused a chain reaction and affected the lives of many Americans.
We manufacture kayaks--a thing no one truly needs, but many benefit from. Our little company is part of a system that helps circulate money, and that's good for this country. Even though Innovex is a tiny part of the economy, we are a large part of America.
America has already let too many industries slide away--multibillion-dollar industries such as electronics, clothing, appliances and toys. The new jobs and dollars are going to have to come from us--the entrepreneurs.
Soon Innovex will be back manufacturing kayaks. America will get through this difficult time. And our lives will again be enriched by the entrepreneurs who, despite the obstacles, risk all, every day, just because they love living in a country that thrives when they manufacture something.
Diane Lewis, owner of Sisters and Daughters in Livonia, Michigan, is a co-author of this article.
- Innovex Kayak Corp.
(800) 459-1409, www.clearkayak.com