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Help make 2012 the year of the small business

  • Published Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, at 7:04 a.m.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. I – along with my fellow members of the Wichita Independent Business Association (WIBA) – might contend that 2012 should be the Year of the Small/Independent Business.

It is recognition way overdue. After all, the Small Business Administration reports that small businesses, which they define as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees:

•  represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms;

•  employ half of all private-sector employees;

•  pay 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll; and

•  generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.

Clearly, small and independent businesses represent the overwhelming majority of businesses in the U.S. But they often fly under the radar, understandably overshadowed by the economic power and employment numbers of larger and publicly held companies.

Certainly, the large employers so critical to every community typically pay higher salaries and offer generous benefits; they also often have the human and financial resources to participate very actively in civic life.

Yet small and independent businesses – especially young start-ups and mid-sized companies – contribute disproportionately to both job creation and business innovation. Supporting the economic health of these businesses supports the overall health of the economy.

Unfortunately, the very nature of small businesses creates some challenges that must be addressed to help keep these companies vital and growing. A member survey recently conducted by WIBA lists members’ top three business priorities as follows – all closely related:

•  decrease regulations and mandates at all levels of government;

•  reduce the size of government;

•  repeal health-care reform.

Why the narrow focus on regulatory issues? Simple: Without the plentiful staff and infrastructure of a large company, complying with regulatory mandates requires business owners to shift their focus from running the business to understanding, meeting and bearing the heavy cost of regulations.

The Small Business Administration reports the annual cost of meeting federal regulations alone at $10,585 per employee for firms with fewer than 20 employees, and $7,454 per employee for companies with staffs of 20 to 499.

WIBA’s role is to serve as the voice of small and independent businesses, communicating with and educating legislators, policymakers and others about the role and needs of these businesses. It’s a very important responsibility for a group that can have tremendous economic impact on our region.

What can you do to support small and independent businesses? Whether you’re a consumer, a business owner or a policymaker, the health of these businesses affects the economic vitality of the community we call home.

If you’re a small and independent business owner, please consider joining the Wichita Independent Business Association (www.wiba.org), making time to understand the issues involved, and taking an active role in the political process.

If you’re a legislator or policymaker, take the time to meet with not only the largest employers in your district, but those smaller and mid-size businesses as well, to find out how pending legislation may affect them.

And if you’re a consumer, look at more than just the price of a product or service to determine where you make your purchases. While an independent business may not be the least expensive, consider that the business owner may be providing jobs, creating wealth and investing in your community.

Cynthia Henning, vice president of outsourced services for Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, is the 2012 chair of the Wichita Independent Business Association. She can be reached at 316-267-7231 or cindy.henning@aghlc.com.

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