Economic Engine Must Keep Running Smoothly

Monday, October 1, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 191

Are business owners and innovators made or born? Probably both.

An “ecosystem” of nonprofits, laboratories and networking groups detailed in this week’s cover story is valuable.

They offer a chance for those who want to try to get some kind of feel for the pressures involved. Nothing can simulate the experience of taking your business plan out there, backed with everything you have and trying to make it work without a net. But these groups can quickly sort out those who have the wrong idea about what it will be like from those who will get up after they have been knocked down and know more from the experience on the next try.

That is the reality of what we call “small business.” There is nothing small about it to the owners and their employees. And the collective impact is certainly not small on our local economy.

Some, probably many, of these businesses will have a brief life. Others will become institutions. And a few will grow to have a regional, national or even international reach. What is important is that citizens with ideas continue to pursue them. Even if most of those ideas wither before they blossom into reality, they will lead to other ideas that might never have been possible without the journey from a failed idea.

It doesn’t make the failure hurt any less or dispense with the financial fallout any quicker. But in a community of business owners is a common experience and view and the kind of counsel that comes from taking real setbacks and surviving.

The best business owners have always had sounding boards, confidantes they can talk with and trust. And that kind of one-on-one trust is something no program can create. It also runs counter to the mythology of business innovators as prophets on a distant mountaintop who see what no one else can. More formal efforts like the ones under way locally now on several fronts are a step to getting those kinds of relationships started by putting like-minded ambitions in the same room.

Add a buy local effort that allows consumers to better identify locally owned businesses, give them a chance and put them to the test and we believe Memphis has a stronger economic base in what remains a challenging national and international economy.

But waiting for the clouds to part and all chances of rain to vanish from the horizon isn’t an option either.

At its core, this effort is about a local market for local goods and services. The rest of the world doesn’t have to need those goods or services immediately, just enough at the start for the bottom line.

We own the local economic engine. While we are unquestionably connected to the bigger ones for the region, the nation and the world, choices we make about the dollars we are already spending can keep that local engine running.