Small Businesses Provide Diversity That Keep Local Economy Strong
One of our principles at Burkholder HVAC is that we use small, locally owned businesses for all of our outside needs. As a heating and air conditioning contractor we do have to work with the major manufacturers for many of the units we install, but we always try to stay local for everything else, from parts to paper.
First of all, we are a small business. We also understand that anything that helps that economy, helps us. When we do business with another local company, we get to know the owners as well as the sales and service representatives, which allows us to maintain a strong and positive relationship even when employees change jobs or move on. We also, in many cases, create friendships, which in turn creates a longstanding trust with our vendors and contractors, and vice versa.
But more important than that is the fact that small business is the heart of the Lehigh Valley economy. A small business is defined as any company with 500 or fewer employees, and we have 75 people on our staff. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, (SBA), small businesses now represent 99.7 percent of all employers in the United States and since 1995 those businesses have created 64 percent of the new jobs and 44 percent of the total private payroll in the country.
It’s no different here in the Lehigh Valley. According to 2013 U.S. Census numbers there are more than 14,600 employers in the Allentown Metropolitan Statistical Region, which includes both Lehigh and Northampton counties. Only 415 of those businesses employ more than 100 people. Another 3,800 employ between 10 and 99 people and 10,360 employ five or fewer people.
That’s an incredible number of very small businesses and they range from construction companies to service businesses to retail stores. But that very diversity is what allowed the Lehigh Valley to weather what has become known as The Great Recession with much less damage than many other areas of the country.
I know. I saw how the recession affected our company. When the downturn began in late 2008 and continued into 2009 and beyond we worked hard to keep business steady and protect the jobs of our employees, but as the recession worsened we had to take some painful steps and reduce our staff from 55 to 35 people. This period, however, led us to reinvent the company and our mission to some degree and as a result we have emerged stronger than ever, with new partnerships, more jobs and a brighter future.
The flexibility that comes from private ownership gives small businesses an advantage over the larger competitors because we can react faster and implement changes that minimize the impacts of economic downturns. As the owner, I was able to make decisions in a timely manner that enabled me to protect the majority of my team members and to take the actions that positioned our company for growth as the economy improved.
Many larger businesses don’t have that capability because the decision chain is much longer and more involved, and larger – especially public – companies face much more stringent regulatory restrictions. In addition, small businesses are often in a much better position to weather economic change because they don’t have the overhead that comes with larger facilities or multiple sites in different regions. That also allows us to price our goods and services at more reasonable rates – and that revenue tends to stay here in the Valley, according to numerous studies.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, we work with other local businesses as much as possible, which means we are supporting local printers, accountants, lawyers, retailers, restaurants , manufacturers and even construction companies. That’s important because it allows those businesses to grow and hire more people.
As small business owners and leaders, we are also much more likely to be involved in their communities, as we see often here in the Lehigh Valley. I am involved in several organizations and I encourage my employees to be involved, as well. Small business owners understand that when we permit an employee to leave work early to coach a youth sports team or help our schools or respond to fire calls, the paybacks are more than financial – they create a stronger community.
Finally, small businesses do not always stay small. We grow, we expand, we add services and products, we return more to our communities in the form of tax dollars that support our schools and public services, and we remember our roots.
Small business is not just a sector of the Lehigh Valley economy. It is truly the heart of our community.