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Can Wee Little Businesses Save the Nation?

smallBoth political parties and both capitalism and socialism spout lots of support for “small business.” Maybe this is where we can bring the country back together again. But I put quotes around “small business” because the Census Bureau and the Small Business Administration have exceedingly murky notions about what “small” means.

By the Census Bureau’s way of counting, there are some 27 million small businesses in the U.S. Among these, there are various yardsticks by which to tell if a business is small enough to fit the category. To be considered “small,” a business in the service sector or in retailing can’t take in over $21 million. A farm business is small if it takes in less than $9 million. If you want to use number of employees as a measure, a business is small if it hires no more than 500 people. In manufacturing, you are still small with 1500 employees.

You can see my problem(s). There is certainly a big difference between having four employees and having 1500 or between taking in a half million dollars in receipts and $21 million. A fresh market farmer who has sales of several hundred thousand dollars surely is going to have a different notion of smallness than the grain farmer who is taking in $9 million. This all becomes more than something just sad or laughable when the government, deftly run behind the scenes by corporate business, starts handing out tax breaks and subsidies.

I think maybe the SBA should divide up this thing called “small business” into some more meaningful categories, like maybe Wee Little Small Business, Small Business, and Rather Large Small Business. When you do this, you will find that the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business usually address the interests of Rather Large Small Business and pretend that Wee Little Small Business hardly exists, even though the latter outnumber the former by about 21,000,000 to 6000 according to SBA’s statistics.

This difference is becoming critical as Wee Little Small businesses explode in numbers. I read two of the “Edible” magazines, Edible Ohio Valley, and Edible Columbus. There are many different “Edible” magazines covering most of the U.S. and I highly recommend them if you are looking for a ray of sunshine in a gloomy world. They just burgeon and bubble over with exuberant enthusiasm about new business startups in the food and farming sector, especially the Wee Little Small kind. Edible Columbus, in the Spring 2013 issue for example, points out with obvious pride, that in 2008 there were six artisan cheese-making businesses in Ohio and today there are 18, 16 of which are run by women. The number of new businesses in the whole local food and food hub circuit is just booming, surely the most exciting economic development in our recent history.

The revolution is not just about economics. It’s about culture. I know a lot of the people in this movement and they do not necessarily fit the mold of the old small business profile. They are not as Republican as they used to be as a group. Nor is it easy to put them into old cultural molds either. They are neither rednecks nor yuppies. They know that we no longer live in the days of Wild Bill Hickok which primitive conservatives seemingly haven’t figured out yet. Nor are they artsy, urbane dilettantes who haven’t realized that the liberal yuppie era is vanishing too. They are not really political in the sense of so many older people who sit around ranting and raving all day about the evils of big government or the evils of big business. When I ask wee little small businesspeople, just as many of them say that they are liberal as say they are conservative and many admit to neither. It is not important to them. They are having too much fun engineering a new revolution that is on everyone’s side. Most tell me that they are leery of big government but that it is the only entity powerful enough to maintain a fair playing field between big corporations and small business if only it would. I have this hunch, or hope anyway, that these are the people who are going to bring some sanity not only to our economy but to our politics. And along the way, some mighty good food too.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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