The Backbone

by alexisholzer15. May 2013 08:14


I know you’ve heard it: small business is the backbone of our economy and they are the job creators of America. As I traveled the backbone of Washington’s highway system last week, that phrase kept rolling around in my head. From a visit with an Auburn small business owner, to WSU Vancouver’s Business Growth MAP celebration, and finally the SBA Small Business Awards Gala, I know this statement to be true.

The first stop on my journey was Auburn to meeting with Pete Agtuca at his manufacturing facility. The remarkable thing about Pete isn’t that he’s Seattle Business Magazine’s 2013 Manufacturing Innovator of the Year (small firm), or even that he has invented low-cost and portable Powersails that could support disaster relief workers and other small businesses like his own by offsetting energy costs and providing advertising space. The thing I find most compelling about Pete is that he was late for our meeting because he was picking up supplies from Home Depot (they got his order wrong). Here’s a guy who owns multiple successful companies (no doubt 3 Phase Energy Systems will become equally if not more successful than his Laser Cutting Northwest or Pacific Air Cargo Transfer) and is still picking up orders from Home Depot. That to me is the quintessential example of a small business owner. One week you are accepting a prestigious award from Seattle Business Magazine, and the next week you are dealing with the day-to-day duties to ensure you remain successful. Hard work comes hand in glove with owning a small business. Don’t worry about Pete though; he’s poised to expand 3 Phase Energy System to a facility across from his current manufacturing facility. There’s another thing about small business: they expand where they are, continuing to support the communities where they live providing jobs right here in our region. By the way: he’s looking for interns!

From Auburn, it was off to Vancouver to participate in WSU Vancouver’s Business Growth Mentor & Analysis Program awards celebration. In a few words, this program pairs teams of business students in a capstone class with a mentor to provide recommendation reports to small business owners in the greater Portland/Vancouver area, and has been steadily growing over the last three years. These student and mentor teams identify barriers to business growth, do market research, and provide recommendations through a professional presentation. Ensuring actionable reports and sustainability, mentors remain in contact with the business to ensure that they are able to successfully implement the recommendations. Or in one case, the business owner hires the student team outright! It was clear that this program is working: students are getting professional experience working directly with small business, mentors are able to give back to their community, and the small businesses are able to overcome their business growth barriers through engagement with higher education. It’s worth noting too that the major supporters of the program are two large banks, Chase and US Bank as well as Foster Wealth Advisors. The keynote speaker from JP Morgan Chase highlighted several times in her speech, the importance of small business, not only for Chase’s bottom line, but for the role they play as the foundation for any community by empowering ‘everyday people’ to play an active role in the economy. As communities are strengthened, so in turn is the business climate. The cycle continues.

My week ended at the Museum of Flight with an inspiring evening at the 2013 Small Business Administration Small Business Awards Gala. By invitation from the Washington Small Business Development Center, I was able to hear from a variety of individuals about their daily struggles, business triumphs, and pride in their ability to support others through providing jobs in their communities. Most often, I heard how they never could have done it alone. Between business advisors who are now friends, small banks that are champions for their success, and the countless others that helped them along the way, the sense of community that operating a small business fosters in our corner of the United States was apparent.

I also had the chance to meet some of my new colleagues in economic development. You heard it here first: we are excited to announce that the WSU Small Business Development Centers will now be a part of the Office of Economic Development, beginning July 2013. Nothing will change about the impeccable business advising the centers’ advisors provide to the hundreds of Washington businesses annually, however we are excited to explore possibilities for expanded business services through integration with the university’s economic development arm.

In sum, if there is one thing to be learned about small business success: it takes a village. It might take one person’s vision, but it takes a village to get a business off the ground. It takes a village to sustain and grow a small business through collaboration and commercial support. Most importantly, it’s more fun to celebrate a small business’s success with a village. I hope the next time you happen to meet a small business owner in your own village, you will take the time to tell them how much they do for your community. They are, after all, the backbone.  

Women swept five of the six awards, including Small Business of the Year (not pictured)

Women swept five of the six categories of the evening, including Small Business of the Year winner Jill Blankenship, owner of Frontline Call Center on San Juan Island (not pictured).


Business Development | Education | Entrepreneurship | Small Business

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