Don’t Forget Alabama’s Entrepreneurs

By SLADE BLACKWELL / Guest Columnist

Lately you would have to be hiding under a rock not to hear a politician talk about job creation. Phrases like “economic development,” “industrial recruitment” and “workforce training” have become widely integrated into political conversations.

It makes sense. After all, most Alabamians are more concerned about having good jobs than just about anything else other than the health and well-being of their families.

The challenge is that most of the government efforts to recruit industry seem to center on large employers. Think about the employers coming to Alabama that make headlines: Mercedes, Austal, Airbus, and Remington, just to name a few. These large employers and others like them are tremendously important to the Alabama economy as they account for a little more than half of the private-sector labor force.

Sometimes lost in the conversation are the firms that employ fewer than 500 employees or have no employees at all. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), they “employ 49.0 percent of the private-sector labor force” in Alabama.

Nationwide the SBA reports that “small firms accounted for 63 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993 and mid-2013.”

While Alabama should continue to recruit large employers, we also need to focus on making it easier to start a business or grow an existing small business in Alabama.

All levels of government in Alabama should take notice. We must recognize the government’s role is to support job creation rather than control it. Recent issues with food trucks and transportation innovator Uber in Birmingham are perfect examples of areas where government needs to listen to entrepreneurs and the public in an effort to generate more opportunity for Alabamians.

Starting a business is a risky proposition. The SBA reports that nationally “about half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more.” That risk alone keeps many would-be entrepreneurs from ever taking the first step to chase their dream, a dream that could mean a future job for someone else. With that in mind, Alabama’s governments should first support job creation by keeping tax, regulation, and paperwork burdens on small businesses as light as possible.

Alabama is blessed to have many creative, talented people who might just have the next idea that could turn into a blockbuster business. Perhaps the best “economic development” tool for many of these would-be small businessmen and women in Alabama is to listen, encourage them, and then get out of their way.

Slade Blackwell is an Alabama state senator from Birmingham whose district includes portions of Shelby County.