Lake Itasca, a rather small body of water in north Minnesota, is generally considered to be the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River, the well-known body of water which flows for more than 2,300 miles through 32 different states and is the fifth largest river in the world by volume. This massive water system has been the major source of water borne commerce to the nation since the Louisiana Purchase from France and its economic impact for our state is well known to us all. The legend of “ole man river” is a core piece of the American story and is as strong as ever.
But it all starts with that tiny stream fed by a small lake in northern Minnesota, which is not more than a mile or two wide and twenty to thirty feet deep. It’s a good reminder that most big things start pretty darn small.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), as Louisiana’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association, represents employers of all sizes. The federal Small Business Association defines a small business as any employer with less than 500 employees. By that definition, roughly 95 percent of LABI members are considered small businesses. An overwhelming percentage of those in our organization are even smaller, employing less than 50 employees on average. In Louisiana as a whole, there are more than 430,000 small businesses employing roughly 917,000 people.
Regardless of how big a business may appear today, I can promise you that most companies have had their own “Lake Itasca” moment and started off pretty darn small at some point.
Pull the historical thread on well-known companies like Community Coffee, Raising Canes, Tabasco and Smoothie King and you will usually find an idea, a kitchen table, some hard work and a calculated risk that a hunch just might work. Most of the industrial contractors building the huge facilities putting our people to work began the same way along with an initial small loan to buy a big piece of equipment or two. Most of the larger, well-known service companies that have dominated our economy for a generation or two started off with a widget, technique or expertise that was created somewhere on a boat or in a field by hard-working Louisiana
The message is clear. We must support small business and entrepreneurship as much as we can… as often as we can… and in as many ways as we can. This Saturday is a great chance to do so.
Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a time across the nation where consumers are encouraged to go support a local small business. It is no coincidence this effort is always tucked into the weekend following Thanksgiving, right after Black Friday and just before Cyber Monday. We all know this weekend will be huge for many Americans who want to get an early start to their Christmas shopping. Our request is that you make many of those purchases at your local, usually brick and mortar, small business proudly serving your community throughout the year.
It may seem easier to just order everything from Amazon while drinking your morning coffee, but you will be surprised to see how many of your local small businesses also can take orders online. Big box national retailers provide a convenient one-stop shopping experience but don’t ever forget that the hands-on service you can get from a truly local, mom and pop hardware or appliance store is simply hard to beat. When you are out and about, rather than stopping in that chain restaurant for a bite, visit a local restaurant that is focused on giving you a great dining experience while also fighting through tight profit margins, rising supply costs and complicated workforce issues.
Throughout the year, we at LABI try our best to fight for the principles of free enterprise and a fair business climate for Louisiana. We do so in large part with these small businesses firmly in mind. When we work with legislators and the governor to limit taxes on manufacturing inputs and business utilities like other states do, we never forget that many of the small guys simply cannot take the added costs and stay open. When the chorus for legal reform reaches a deafening level to help reduce the “tort tax” and lower insurance costs, it is primarily motivated by the desire to help small businesses dependent on shipping costs or maintaining a fleet of trucks, as well as the many Louisiana working families that own a small business of their own who just want to keep a little more of their earnings each month.
Most big businesses started out as small businesses. Every small business dreams of getting bigger one day. Sure, smart policies from the Capitol are needed to give them that chance. But, even more important than that, is the loyal patronage needed from their local customers throughout the year. This Saturday visit a local small business and when you are leaving the parking lot, promise yourself you will do it again sometime soon. That small business may look more like Lake Itasca today… but with your help, it can start to resemble the mighty Mississippi sooner than you think.
Stephen Waguespack is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)