I live and work in a small town in rural southeast Iowa. It’s just like the small towns in rural areas for many of the readers here. A town square. Dedicated, selfless members on the town council and school boards and county supervisors. Friday nights are all about high school football. Parents love their children and want the best for them.
And the business community is made up primarily of small companies with under 25 employees. Their customers are loyal. Their service is personal; it’s their neighbors they serve. Local charities and projects like the library expansion and a new civic center and a community rec center, depend on the support of these small businesses and their generous donations every year. The small businesses support them as they make their community what they are.
And yet…civic leaders in these communities, mine included, swoon like a teenager in the throes of first-love at the prospect of a big corporate company bringing their operations to town. Oh, they run after ‘em and buy them gifts and talk sweet nothings in their ear with offers of abatements and deferments and infrastructure investments and tax credits.
Like the steady and true girlfriend/boyfriend, the small locally-owned business stood by and for the town before the new one came to town. They made the town what it is, desirable in the eyes of the new one. And, they’ll be there when the new one leaves town for another richer, more gullible, community.
Small businesses provide diversity in industry and business-cycles. The risks on a small community from a diversified source of jobs is like that of a company where no single customer is responsible for a disproportionate share of revenues. They literally create the community’s quality of life from their business, those they hire, benefits they offer and how they support the local community. Job growth historically, and never more-so than now, comes from small business. Together, its those local, small businesses, who made the community enticing for the flashy, corporate, companies.
My dad always told me, At the end of the dance, you go home with the date that brung ya. Civic leaders: Small locally-owned businesses are the date that brung ya. They’re the ones that recognized your potential, stood by you when you were nobody, supported you as you grew, listened and held you accountable for being your best. They invested in making your small town its best. They voted for you and probably donated to your campaign. You owe them at least the same incentives and benefits, deferments and credits, infrastructure investments and all, you’re offering the flashy new-girl/guy that’s not even come to town yet. After all, they’ve already paid for them.
If you want your community to not only grow but maintain its character, then save the incentives and deferments, abatements and credits, for the businesses that made your community what it is, and will be there next year and the year after.
– Zane Safrit
Zane Safrit’s passion is small business and the operations’ excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. He blogs about health care issues each Monday at http://zanesafrit.typepad.com. There on the sidebar is a list of blogs and resources to educate yourself on the health care challenges you face, I face, we all face together. He also writes on small business, word of mouth, marketing, branding, innovation, and failure. He previously served as CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited.
Jay Ehret says
Wow, Zane. Spot on! Yesterday my community announced it was giving a $1 million incentive to bring 115 diaper manufacturing jobs to town. that’s about $8700 per job created. Ironically, just a few years ago we had a diaper manufacturer close up shop.
I await the day my local chamber and community will announce a program for entrepreneurs beyond a breakfast or business after hours.
Yes, yes, yes! Zane is on the button again.
Jay, your community seems to be about normal. Disgusting, but normal. If the diaper jobs are like the big-box-store jobs that my community “bought” in here, they will pay sub-standard wages and place further burdens on the social services of the county/state.
I, too, await the local chamber/community offering incentives for the small business owner–been waiting a lot of years (over 20) now.
Oh, well. We plod along.
Mike Buckley says
Great post. To take your dance analogy a little further, when a young man abandons his steady girl friend at the dance, we know the type of girl he usually picks. What he hopes to get from the girl is what the small town usually gets from the big box store, if you get my drift.
Becky McCray says
Zane, you have written a new classic for economic developers everywhere. Thank you.