“I Am American Business"

Oct 8, 2012

This post originally appeared on the Business Civic Leadership Center's blog

In November, Steve Miller, the president and CEO of Dillon Gage and HELPS International, will be honored by the government of Guatemala for his organizations’ extraordinary efforts to help the country improve economic and health conditions for families. He says he just fell in love with it 30 years ago, and has never looked back.

He sees what he does as a small business owner as a worthy calling, a moral one. This video clip speaks for itself:

The point is that there are literally millions of small business owners throughout the United States – florists, restaurateurs, hair stylists, bar owners, auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers – that take care of the countless jobs that modern life requires. They have to get up early, work hard, use their wits, courage, resources, and skills to deal with the myriad curve balls that life throws at them. There is inherent drama and creativity in what they do, because they are constantly making bets about the future. Should they hire another employee, should they stock a certain product, expand a program, run an advertisement, buy more insurance?

Dun & Bradstreet counts 23 million small businesses. The Small Business Administration reports 27 million. That means there is close to one small business for every 12 people in America. Business is woven into the fabric of the country. Sometimes it seems like we forget that, in terms of how we talk about business in our political and cultural life. Wall Street scandals and foreclosures and Hollywood movies where the business leader is the bad guy can’t help but affect attitudes.

But we in the business community can do better. We need to do better. We live in a cynical age where a single scandal can tap into prejudices and stereotypes and inspire regulatory and legislative activity at the drop of a hat. For these reasons, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and BCLC are currently undertaking several activities, as this snapshot shows:

(1)   The U.S. Chamber launched the Campaign for Free Enterprise in 2009 with the goal of building a grassroots movement in support of free enterprise. This Campaign runs a number of different activities, including working with young entrepreneurs and colleges to raise awareness about what free enterprise is all about.

(2)   BCLC has created the Business for Good Map, working with university researchers to document how business addresses various social and environmental challenges in the U.S. and around the world.

(3)   The Chamber has created the Small Business Summit and launched a recognition program to celebrate small business, while BCLC has created the Citizens Awards, to recognize best practices in how business contributes to society.

Personally, I believe that we need to do more. We need to encourage the teaching of economic principles in middle and high school, and support organizations like Junior Achievement and SkillsUSA that prepare our youth. We need to engage with the arts community, faith-based community, and other civic organizations to enlist their help to translate the dignity of work and free enterprise into their idioms and contexts. We need to build up relations and personal connections and show how honest business processes and methods are not “dirty” but rather, they are efficient, self-sustaining and contribute to independence and growth.

As one business leader just told me, business done right creates a perpetual motion flywheel that can sustain activity indefinitely, and it is all done voluntarily, without the implicit threat of force that government always has. This is not a message for just one community, one time, one sector – this is for the country, and this is for our people.

When you hear an American worker say “I am American business” you know there’s a lot of pride and meaning behind those words.

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