Much debate has taken place recently on the topic of American “greatness.” While I believe this country remains great today, I also believe it has lost some of its momentum for a number of reasons, including a struggling
economy. Wages are not climbing, consumer spending is stagnant, and the
national debt keeps growing. We need
to reinvigorate the middle class with
more opportunities for higher-paying
jobs so that Americans feel confident
and prosperous again. Those opportunities exist, but unlike the last century,
more will come from small businesses
than big businesses.
According to U.S. Small Business Administration Office
of Advocacy reports, corporate America has been down-sizing. Since 1990, big business has eliminated 4 million
jobs, while small business has added 8 million new ones.
The country now has 28 million small businesses, and they
account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales. Also, small businesses provide 55 percent of all U.S. jobs and 66 percent of
new jobs created since the 1970s. Further, as the number of
small business startups has grown, their rate of failure has
When I was growing up, my parents’ generation wanted
a better life for us, and we baby boomers got it. My father
was trained as a machinist in the U.S. Army. After completing his enlistment, he leveraged those skills and worked in
a factory back home. The pay was decent, benefits fair and
overtime available. He was able to remain in the occupation
long enough to retire with a pension that lasted throughout
his and my mother’s lives.
I had an aunt who was ahead of her time: She labored full
time in a factory while also working at home and raising
three children. She put in a total of 75 years at a fine china
company before retiring. I remember turning over many
plates in restaurants around the world, proudly reading the
brand and assuming its china and other “Made in the USA”
goods would be the gold standard forever. Unfortunately,
that was not the case. That particular factory, established in
1871, closed its doors in 2009.
I suspect many Americans have similar stories of once-abundant blue-collar jobs that have dried up in their hometowns, either outsourced to other countries or replaced by
technology. The model of big businesses employing a breadwinner for life rarely applies anymore.
So how do we set up the next generation for success?
We can begin by generating desired jobs in relevant, high-demand fields. These jobs will come from the source that
made our country so great in the first place—innovative
entrepreneurs with pride of ownership, bolstered by the
Entrepreneurship Can Make America Stronger
BY LT. GEN. MIKE BASLA, USAF (RET.) competitive American spirit. But we must foster this spirit
I would like to see schools provide more emphasis on
practical courses that teach the fundamentals of small
business and entrepreneurship. We need them to focus on
the skills that individuals need to create and deliver high-quality products. Banks and community planners can help
startups identify emerging market needs to further enhance
opportunities for success. Finally, we need more mentors
who provide guidance to small-business owners on the
details of starting a business and growing it. Today, the
government has a program encouraging large organizations
to form mentor-protégé relations with small businesses.
This program should be expanded. At the community level,
Rotary Clubs have experienced business leaders who can
serve as advisers to startups.
At all levels, government plays a critical role. While government has made some effort to support small businesses,
more needs to be done. When I retired from the Air Force,
my primary goal was to produce a quality product in the
United States and to create jobs. My family and I planned
and financed a small startup in which some still are working
diligently today. Equally important, we have put architects,
construction workers, electricians and others to work along
the way. Many of these subcontractors are self-employed.
The journey has been hugely rewarding, but the challenges
we faced from many government agencies were complicated,
time-consuming and expensive. State and local governments
should look at those states with the highest job creation
statistics to gain insights and then adopt similar business-friendly policies and regulations.
Our country’s economy was built by pioneers with vision,
determination and a willingness to take risks. Every city in
the nation reflects evidence of an entrepreneur who realized a dream. But the shifting
demands of the global economy
mean few Americans can expect
to work in a big business for life.
Fortunately, innovative entrepreneurs are stepping forward and
starting their own small businesses, creating jobs and wealth. By all accounts, we are
headed in the right direction, with the next generation
redefining “Made in the USA” brands and ways to produce
them. Entrepreneurship and small business is the new
engine making a strong America even stronger. I am happy
to be along for the ride.
Lt. Gen. Mike Basla, USAF (Ret.), the former chief of information dominance and chief information officer of the U.S.
Air Force, is a senior vice president and Air Force client
executive for CACI. The views expressed are his alone and do
not necessarily reflect the views of CACI, the U.S. Air Force or
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