More than 200 local businesses were nominated for the prestigious "Top 10" and Small Business of the Year Award as part of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce eighth annual Small Business Celebration. It's an exciting time as the process uncovers hidden business gems, and showcases the elements of success passed peer-to-peer throughout a series of events that culminates in May.
A few weeks ago, the University of Maryland published a study that challenged the election rhetoric that small business and small business owners are the "backbone of America's economy."
The study argued that small businesses are nearly irrelevant in terms of net job growth and that certain types of small businesses matter more than others.
For example, it concluded that the liquor store on the corner really isn't as significant as say start-ups founded by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates because the liquor store's growth is static and its payroll is low-wage.
While research does show micro businesses have the most churn and highest failure rate, they also are driving innovation, challenging processes, and blossoming into second-stage, mature businesses.
In Grand Traverse County, businesses with fewer than 150 employees — the cut-off for the Chamber's award — employ more than 40,000 people — including the four that work at "the corner liquor store."
Nearly half of those jobs are in companies with 10 or less employees.
According to the Edward Lowe Foundation, which studies American entrepreneurs, existing businesses with 10-99 employees account for 71 percent of net job growth in the United States.
And, while I don't spend my day in an ivory tower, I have a pretty good view of the business landscape. I see it as much more damaging to a community when a business with hundreds of employees (Lear, Tower, Dura) closes its doors than when a nascent entrepreneur closes her door after two or three years.
The difference is that when a large business closes, it's gone and its assets leave with it. When the nimble entrepreneur shuts her door in the fall, she opens a new one in the spring and tries, tries again until she finds that foothold, that right idea at the right time, and she finally makes it.
That's where a business like Hagerty, the family owners that are the namesake of the Chamber's Small Business of the Year Award, started its story.
During the course of the Small Business Celebration, there have been more than 70 companies represented in the Top 10, from bagpipes and tailpipes to wine, finance, and stainless. Companies have ranged from more than 100 employees to as few as five.
Each has a story of rugged determination, inspiring innovation, picking the right people, and doing the right things to succeed — often not the first time they tried.
They provide examples of leadership, resourcefulness and inspiration and their contributions to our region go far beyond providing jobs. They build communities.
Learn more about the Chamber's Small Business Celebration at www.tcchamber.org.
Doug Luciani is president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.