Cheers to Small Business

Karen Kerrigan

Last week in New York City, I participated in an important summit of business leaders where we explored the “Outlook for 2008.” We identified the key priorities and needs to keep the U.S. entrepreneurial sector strong and competitive.

The event, hosted by Moran Media Group, was quite an impressive gathering of “the tribe” – those dedicated and passionate about serving entrepreneurs. In addition to learning new information, my most valued take away was a boost of optimism – and it was a mega-dose. After all, being surrounded by a hundred-plus optimistic, high-achievers is the perfect antidote to the doom-and-gloomers who fill our airwaves, newspapers and electronic communications with downbeat analysis and coverage.

Indeed, while uncertainties and concerns exist on the economic front, the overall condition of our country is incredibly strong. There’s a lot of be grateful for on Thanksgiving Day 2007. Most entrepreneurs know this to be the case.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2007, I refuse to be a “doomsday diva.” The competition for that title is too tough anyway.

Here are a few of the things U.S. entrepreneurs are counting their blessings for during this time of national “thanks”:

The size and strength of the U.S. economy: Is the U.S. economy in an irrevocable ruinous state? That may be your conclusion if you read certain columnists and newspapers (many of which have penned a continuous stream of erroneous information over the past five years or more).

Despite serious credit issues, the economy grew 3.9% in the third quarter, which follows 3.1% growth in the previous quarter. According to Nicholas Vardy of The Global Guru newsletter, these two quarters of growth put together mean the U.S. “added the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia to its economy.”

No country comes close to our size, flexibility and innovative capacity. U.S. GDP is projected to hit $13.22 trillion at the end of 2007. If you combine the economies of the next four largest – Japan, Germany, China and the U.K. – you then have a competitive match-up with America.

In fact, the World Economic Forum just rated the U.S. economy No. 1 in the world. Where were all the headlines regarding this noteworthy rating?

The U.S. economy has come through past challenges. Yes, there will always be the naysayers who find a willing audience for predicting the end of American economic greatness. Then, there are business owners and their workforce who always prove them wrong.

The quality of our employees: It’s true that the number one issue facing business owners is finding and keeping quality employees. The demand for skilled workers is extremely high, therefore businesses are placing a premium on keeping loyal and productive employees. Successful entrepreneurs know they can’t do it on their own. They believe in the power of teams – that is, their valuable “human capital.”

Though there are some workplaces where sharp rhetoric is used to drive a wedge between employers and their workforce, most do not reflect an “us or them” mind-set. In fact, a study released by the University of Chicago for Labor Day 2007, finds that 86% of people are happy with their work.

And, a happy workforce is a productive one. Indeed, the U.S. workforce is the most productive in the world, according to a September 2007 study by the United Nations. The report finds that the average U.S. worker produces $63,885 in wealth per year. Business owners know that their employees work hard and put in long hours when necessary.

Third quarter 2007 preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Labor finds that productivity improved 5.3% in the business sector (the largest gain since the third quarter of 2003) and 4.9% in the non-farm business sector.

Yes, we entrepreneurs are blessed with great employees.

Those resilient consumers and customers: Consumers are the lifeblood of our businesses and the economy (consumer spending accounts for 70% of U.S. economic activity), and they’ve really hung in there. It seems every time a prediction is made about a dive in consumer confidence, the experts are surprised about subsequent reports of healthy consumer spending.

Well, here we are at the beginning of the 2007 holiday buying season and predictions are less than cheerful. This year, the combined effect of higher energy prices, a weak housing market and the credit crunch are adding to a mix of factors that may suppress sales – the degree of the drag (if any) is the big question.

The Consumer Federation of America and Credit Union National Association released their annual holiday spending survey on Nov. 19. It found that 35% of respondents “intended to spend less than last year.” In 2006, 32% intended to spend less. Still, consumers spent more. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF: 8.75, -0.16, -1.79%), last year’s holiday retail sales increased by 4.6% over the previous year.

NRF predicts that sales will increase 4% in 2007 (to $474.5 billion), which compares to a ten-year average increase of 4.8%. Other independent predictions range from a 2% to 3.5% increases, or more.

Most of the small business owners that I have been in contact with are keeping optimistic, while, at the same time, being realistic. Those who treat their customers well, thank them regularly, offer unique “deals,” and market early and often should do OK, they say. And, given the constant drumbeat of doom-and-gloom news – a 4% increase is pretty darn good, they observe.

With a twinkle in their eye, however, they say consumers will not let them down. Indeed, we are very grateful for our loyal customers, and consumers everywhere.

We give thanks to the fact that we live in a democracy, and we are a blessed nation. We give thanks to those in the armed services protecting our freedoms, and the brave men and women who have died serving our country.

We are a nation of generous, innovative, compassionate and talented people.

Things are good – very good. Let’s give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This article originally appeared on for The Beltway Small Business Report. Click here for the link.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that works to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship. She is also founder of Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. , an association helping women business owners succeed through education, networking and advocacy.

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