Yesterday kicked off the SBA’s National Small Business Week, a time to honor and celebrate all things small business—their incredible importance and the prominent role they play in communities across the U.S. and in the country’s economy. The SBA is hosting events all week in cities throughout the country—Seattle today, followed by Dallas, St. Louis and Pittsburgh—culminating in an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. A variety of awards will be handed out, but the biggie is always “Small Business Person of the Year.” Throughout the week, states and communities across the country also hold events and present awards to outstanding small businesses and their owners.
Thanks to technology, you don’t have to be in any of the host cities to take advantage of great topics, panels and speakers, as well as a series of Google+ Hangouts, which will all be streamed live. Check out all the events, topics and schedules here.
Thinking about where it all began…it’s been 50 years since the very first National Small Business Week, when President John F. Kennedy made it official in 1963. Every year, the sitting president launches Small Business Week with a proclamation.
We’re not entirely sure, politically, what motivated President Kennedy in 1963 to establish National Small Business Week other than wanting to draw attention to U.S. small businesses. By 1963, the country was about 10 years into the biggest/longest economic boom it had ever seen (before or since). Were most businesses “small” at that time? Or was the U.S. still incubating an entrepreneurial spirit that would be unleashed some years later?
A bit of context: The year 1963 was turbulent. Vietnam was ramping up; the Cold War was winding down. Violent civil rights demonstrations played out on the nightly news. Push-button phones were introduced, and Beatlemania took the U.S. by storm. A postage stamp cost 5 cents, and world population was 3.2 billion, less than half what it is today. How and where did small business fit into this landscape?
Then there’s the actual force behind National Small Business Week—the Small Business Administration (SBA)—the U.S. government agency created to support to small businesses and entrepreneurs. President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the SBA 1953, so it was already 10 years old when Small Business Week was launched. In the decades since then, it’s been a rocky ride for the SBA. Its purpose, its role, its programs, its effectiveness and its funding have all come under fire through the years, including today. Depending on who’s been in office at any given time, support (or lack thereof) for the SBA has been all over the place.
Would you believe that President Ronald Reagan was absolutely determined to do away with the SBA altogether? True! His efforts failed, and subsequent presidents thought differently. Finally, President Bill Clinton made the SBA chief a full-fledged, cabinet-level position—a move many felt truly made a difference in the agency’s stature and what it was able to accomplish. Although the SBA and small businesses benefitted from stimulus funds and President Obama championed the Small Business Jobs Act, many see a contradiction in this administration’s policies—on which they blame a number of current small business concerns: taxes, health care and a slow economy overall.
Today, SBA has support, but also increasingly vocal detractors. Among the loudest are reformers—those who want to revamp and revitalize the SBA, including, among other changes, reinstating it as a cabinet position, increasing funding and cutting out banks as middlemen for loans. Check out this interesting analysis of the SBA.
In the meantime, observers say that National Small Business Week is mostly symbolic and doesn’t engage—or even make it onto the radar of—the majority of small business owners. Regardless, perhaps its greatest value is raising awareness, not just of the general public but among small business owners themselves even more so, of the issues and policies that are having a real impact every single day. Organizers urge all small business owners to get informed and make their voices heard on the political front, because, they say, the very survival of small businesses is at stake. Jobs, taxes, health care, even the role of the SBA, aren’t going away soon.
Get a head start by reading Fox Business’s What Does Washington Have in Store for Small Business? And, as the article suggests, engage with the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee at http://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/. It may be the most important way you can honor your small business and all the others across the U.S. during this year’s National Small Business Week.
Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Are you celebrating National Small Business Week? And—do you participate in the political process as a small business owner? How important is this to the future of small businesses in the U.S.?