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Do Businesses Need Partners to Survive?

September 4, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I have heard this several times lately: “Did the recession go deep enough to create any substantive positive changes?”

I ponder this knowing that if the “Great Recession” had hit any harder, I would not be here writing this to you: we would have become another statistic of a long-time Adirondack family who would be forced to move.

But it seems that when I visit the local coffee shops or travel, I hear conversations about how these tough times did not create the substantive changes that may need to happen to get us back on track.

Changing Realities?

I picked up a recent copy of the “National Interest” whose cover story was the “Crisis of the Old Order including “America’s Waning Influence,” and the “Fate of the Dollar.” Books such as “Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World” talk about “Leadership for a changing world.” The one conclusion they all seem to share is that our world is changing and that the old ways of doing things may no longer be valid.

Perhaps one perception that needs to change is our view on small business.

Oh yes, I know everyone loves to say they support small business. But do they?

Small business was responsible for getting us of out of the last recession. Entrepreneurship became a poster child of American ingenuity and way of life. Open arms were everywhere welcoming them. We seemed to trust the “Mom and Pops.”

Somewhere along the line though did we lose our sense "partnership"? Did too much of a good thing lead to distrust?

Whose Talking Now?

Perhaps it is because everything today is so magnified. When there was a problem years ago, you dealt with it face-to-face. It is a bit harder to scream at someone when you are looking them in the eye.

We no longer have to be afraid to tell that business owner just what we think and has that form of communication eroded how we work with small business?

My father used to tell me that communication is about respect. It is not a cliff you fall off of. It usually does not happen in just one day. It erodes over time, stealthily disappearing over a heated argument where the right words were not used, pre-conceived notions and attitude. More importantly, I came to realize you need to work at it. I found the same applies to raising our kids.

Has the degradation of how we talk to each other, changed how we work with small business?

Running a small business has become so complicated. Just trying to figure out the social media world to find customers you feel you need a degree from M.I.T. and 3 full-time employees. Every day it seems there is new regulation from health insurance to tax reporting.

There appears to be a perception that the white knights of small business can handle all of this.

But I am not sure they can.

A Changing World?

We all know the state of our local economy. We are losing our working families and are now the second oldest population in the United States. The number of tourism facilities in Franklin County is at a “historic low.”

We can talk about all the loan dollars and government support. But to help spur small business growth may require something greater, something more fundamental. We may need to recognize that the world of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically and to survive we may need partners as well as customers.

As small businesses became the focal point our economy, regulations and taxes came with it. This is not about whining about too much taxes or regulations. It is about that many of these rules were enforced with big business in mind. Remember, before the 70’s and 80’s it was really about corporate America. The new wave of micro-enterprises and the Mom and Pops’ was unexpected and often laws did not change with it.

As a community development official for example, we often discussed with the Adirondack Park Agency how smaller commercial projects sometimes fell under the “industrial” realm for review.

And perhaps it was inevitable that as small business became big business, wrongs and abuses would occur. Justifiably so new regulations came into place. Some perhaps not so justified.

What is the Future?

It is a small business world now filled with complicated potholes. One mistake can be magnified by a customer or regulatory agency. Your business and your property have become a haven for the unexpected critique.

All of this has come at a time when many businesses are insecure. Many are living each day waiting for the pin to drop. Will it be some remote Middle East country that inflames our oil prices? Will the foreign debt crisis zap consumer confidence? Will we have snow this winter for winter tourists? What will the next review say? What new regulation came about today?

We may need to understand that today; many businesses need partners to survive. We all have an opinion. We can also have a big impact on whether the business community is part of our community. We need to work together in new ways to make it happen. There are all types of entrepreneurs and all sizes of businesses. The Adirondacks economic engine though is truly small businesses, many home based. They are not some corporate entity from a foreign land, they are one of us.

More than ever there needs to be outreach and communication if small businesses are going to continue to grow and be a major part of our economy.

Perhaps it can start with just how we talk to each other.

The Need for Partners

Small businesses need partners to survive. They need you and me. They need local and regional marketing partners. They need to have a relationship with regulatory agencies that is one of openness and outreach and not one of being guilty before proven innocent. We need to feel at ease to ask questions, how to be better and more responsive.

We are in this together and if small business is once again being asked to be innovative and an economic engine, we need partner’s not just customers. To increase sales, to grow and to employ more people there may need to be more of an open dialogue, and a positive environment not just with an elected official but with all partners.

Entrepreneurship is a funny thing. It is based on opportunity. If it becomes too much ‘they vs. them’ it will either disappear or new avenues will be created. What we hoped to grow or protect whether it be the environment or jobs will go to other places.

There has been a severe upheaval in the way you need to conduct your business to survive. Businesses may need to realize they need to think differently and we may need to understand they need partners.

Perhaps it can start with how we communicate with each other.


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