Small Business Focus: No joy on America’s Main Street

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 10, 2002


Although Main Street America’s business owners breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when President Bush inked the corporate reform bill into law, there were few shouts of joy to be heard. The mood among the nation’s small entrepreneurs is one of sadness and disappointment.

They’re sad that this scandal threatens to give the free enterprise sector a black eye. They’re disappointed that the mess required an act of Congress to rectify.

But there’s more than sadness and disappointment among the ranks of small business. There’s also anger because these job-creating, income-generating, tax-paying proponents of free enterprise know that all the effort, expense and time wasted in hearings, investigations and legal manuverings has pushed the small-business agenda into the background. Let’s forget for a moment that small business creates eight out of 10 new jobs for the nation. And let’s ignore the fact that nearly 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product is generated by these non-Wall Street firms. And while we’re turning our head to the facts, let’s act like we don’t know that during national recessions – like the one we’re in right now – small business is almost the sole source of job growth.

But there is one fact about small-business owners that everyone should keep in mind. The typical Main Street business owner doesn’t build zillion-dollar mansions, nor need a computer to keep up with her stock options or zip from coast to coast in a sleek, corporate jet. According to an NFIB Research Foundation study, the typical small-business owner earns around $40,000 a year.

Yes, $40,000. What does that say about these entrepreneurs? The message is clear: they aren’t in it to get rich.

What motivates them? Not mansions, not jets, nor stock options.

Certainly, many have hopes and dreams of being bigger one day, but that is not their all-consuming passion. No, they do it for the thrill of building something for themselves and their families. They do it to have more control over their destinies. They do it because that small business they create is an extension of themselves.

That’s why they fight so hard to keep government from increasing taxes, from adding on more regulation and from erecting red tape obstacles at every turn. That’s why they are frustrated to see their elected leaders now having to divert their energies to forcing people to abide by the laws that are already on the books.

Three months from now, expect to see some of this emotion find expression at the ballot box. A new NFIB-sponsored study notes the majority of the small-business community will take time off from running their business just long enough to go to the polls on Nov. 5. According to researchers, 84 percent of those surveyed confirmed they’re planning to vent their feelings in the voting booth. Given the current state of economic uncertainty, they’re going to be looking to Congress to lead a strong recovery.

Washington should pay heed. There is no joy on Main Street today.

JACK FARIS is president of NFIB (the National Federation of Independent Business), the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group.