By Geri Stengel
That empty storefront down the street, the closed B2B warehouse that employed four people, the understaffed specialty shop that irks you with poor service: What do they all have in common? They're small businesses, they employ local people, and their owners didn't have access to the survival techniques they needed.
It's often said that displaced workers must be retrained. But that's starting at the wrong end. If small business owners and entrepreneurs have access to business training, networking, and mentors, their survival rates will surge and those workers won't be displaced in the first place. In fact, small business might hire instead of laying off workers.
And such training and networking is already available as is the means to pay for it.
American companies just had their best quarter ever --$1.6 trillion in profits -- the best quarter in 60 years of record-keeping. And Wall Street bonuses are estimated at $144 billion this year.
What if corporations used those record profits to ratchet up job generation, ensure their own future growth, and polish their social responsibility badges at the same time? It can be done.
Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway, is no slouch when it comes to assessing business opportunities or social needs. “Our recovery is dependent on hard-working small business owners across America who will create the jobs that America needs," Buffett said.
Some corporations realize this. IBM is leading an initiative to help small businesses become suppliers to large companies. American Express organized Small Business Saturday to encourage shopping at local small businesses during the holiday shopping season. Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses has a $500 million initiative to unlock the growth and job-creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, mentors and networks, and financial capital. Small businesses are transformed when their owners get practical business training, transformed from struggling to thriving. Transformational: Big claim but not misused here.
Just ask the entrepreneurs/students of the Kauffman FastTrac course, offered by New York City. They report an enriching boost to business plans and problem-solving using information from professionals, and brain-storming and networking with peers. Students reported "aha" moments that they are now implementing to grow their businesses.
These were not newbies, just getting their feet wet. These were business people who needed help overcoming obstacles brought on by the recession and changing demographics. They had existing businesses that employed people, provided benefits but they needed guidance.
Corporations, such as Goldman Sachs, can underwrite that guidance as part of their corporate social responsibility or cause marketing efforts. After all, small businesses build communities and create jobs. Nurturing that is the responsible thing to do.
It's also good business. Small businesses create jobs. Employed people buy products and services. Both pay taxes.
It's a golden opportunity for corporations: build communities and their consumer base.
Geri Stengel is founder of Ventureneer, which connects values-driven small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as businesses. You can learn new skills, collaborate with peers, develop solutions to your real-world problems, get one-on-one help from experts, and access the information you need to make better decisions for your organization.