Growing our economy and saving our schools and communities can be done by creating high schools that teach young people that they don’t have to work for a big company or for other people. Teach them that owning their own business is a possibility and, in fact, is a local strategy that will grow the economy.
The dominant theme on any news is how “bad” big business is and how many employees “they” have added or taken away. Many people think that this country is run by “big business,” but actually, our country is really run and dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses. Businesses that you see on your Main Street, home- based businesses that are a part of your town’s hidden economy, and many other businesses that you count on to meet your needs.
From his new book, The Coming Jobs War, Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, says, “as of 2007, there were about six million businesses in the United States with at least one employee; businesses with 500 or fewer employees represent more than 99% of these six million. There are slightly more than 88,000 companies with 100 to 500 employees and about 18,000 with 500 to 10,000 workers – and only about 1,000 companies with more than 10,000 employees.”
My math tells me, then, the U.S. has only 107,000 companies of six million that have more than 100 employees. That leaves 5,893,000 businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
For 25 years, I have been working with communities on many different levels, much of that time in very rural areas. I’ve watched communities spend many thousands of dollars to “steal” companies from other towns, thus creating a neutral net gain of jobs in the economy. Many of those companies, after they have used up their tax advantages from relocating, will look elsewhere to gain more tax advantages and their loyalty to that community ends as soon as they receive a better deal. In my opinion, the best way to accelerate our job creation rate is to embrace and support policies in all levels of the political spectrum that create entrepreneurs.
This is not just about taxes or regulations, though those are important components to the economy. My focus is about teaching our young people from a very early age that an alternative of working for someone else is creating your own business and products.
The bottom line is that if we really want to make a difference in our economy and grow our towns, we had better start focusing on creating entrepreneurship in our schools and towns.
We need to encourage people to dream and help talented individuals start companies that create business models that grow big-, medium-, small-sized, and sustainable organizations. We need to encourage students to create local jobs by owning local businesses. And support them to grow regionally and globally.
We need entrepreneurship schools that gives students alternative curriculum that teaches the components of business planning and use their youthful creativity to design the future.
We need curriculum that engages youth to develop as local leaders, energizes them through entrepreneurship and business growth, and teaches the importance of giving back and local charitable giving.
According to Clifton, “the United States has successfully invented and commercialized between 30% and 40% of all breakthroughs worldwide, throughout virtually all categories, in the last 200+ years.”
That is a startling statistic when you really think about what that means. We have a culture of creativity and invention. We also have a culture of taking those inventions to market, and that takes an entrepreneur.
It appears to me that we have been losing that part of our creative business cycle. Many community businesses are third-generation owners, passed down in families, leading to many of our communities and leaders losing their entrepreneurial culture, innovation, and drive.
Entrepreneurs are the bridge to the innovations and those customers that will use the products. The business model is everything! You can have all the inventions and innovative products in the world, but without the business model the entrepreneur creates to bring a product to market, new inventions and innovations sit on the shelf.
Entrepreneurs are those who usually start businesses, but another benefit of teaching entrepreneurship in school is teaching the concept of “intrapreneurship.” Intrapreneurs work inside companies and are the brains and energy behind creating customers.
An entrepreneur/intrapreneur will create business models that will identify more customers and create innovative ways to address commercial and social concerns.
Many of our towns are losing population. Schools are losing enrollment, and budgets are shrinking. We can turn around this trend by giving our youth an alternative to working for others and an alternative of having to move away to get a good job. That alternative is owning their own business and locating in the town where they are educated. Imagine a school in your town that incubates business ideas and business models that will spin out to locate on Main Street or can be run from a home using the community’s local technology, contributing to and growing your local tax base!
Gallup identified the reason students drop out of school and disengage in education, they have lost all hope in graduating. They cannot see how the education they are getting will lead them to where they want to go. Students will engage in their education when they see how it will provide them with a good job and a chance for a good life. For many, it is giving them hope that their good job will be created by their own creativity and the realization that they can own their own business.
Innovation itself doesn’t create sales. The entrepreneur is the connector, the person who envisions a valuable product or concept and its customer, and then creates a business model and strategy that creates sales and profit.
This isn’t just a school’s issue. For many towns and cities, it is a community survival issue.
Entrepreneurship is a long-term commitment that needs the support of the local community, local school district, coupled with state policy support. Clifton states, “If you were to ask me, from all of Gallup’s data and research on entrepreneurship, what will most likely tell you if you are winning or losing your city, my answer would be, ‘5th-12th-graders’ image of and relationship to free enterprise and entrepreneurship.’ If your city doesn’t have growing economic energy in your 5th-12th-graders, you will experience neither job creation, nor city GDP growth.”
Entrepreneurship schools in our education system is a must and needs to be a supported strategy by leadership on all policy levels for our healthy, growing, successful future.