It is too easy to fixate these days on the big players in our economy. Large corporations dazzle us with multimillion-dollar profits (and sometimes debts). This has been true of Colorado Springs, with its impressive array of companies sporting government contracts and employing hundreds if not thousands of workers.
Quietly, however, small businesses are transforming the economic landscape.
As Aikta Marcoulier, director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center (SBDC), told The Gazette last week, businesses with fewer than 500 employees now make up 92 percent of the local economy.
Think of that: In a city whose reputation is its large military and aerospace presence and religious nonprofits with an international outreach, the real drivers of growth increasingly are the mom-and-pop store on the corner, the crafts business that began in someone's kitchen, the online entrepreneurs brainstorming at the local coffee shop.
It is a stark change, although it has been coming for a while.
Large employers nationwide, whether manufacturers, call centers or government and the military, are shedding jobs by automating or turning to part-time and temporary workers. It is part of a sweeping shift in the U.S. and global economies that has been going on for a couple of decades at least. Shrinking labor unions and technology have pushed this along.
Out of necessity, more Americans are joining the entrepreneurial class. Perhaps it just took a little longer for it to become noticeable in the Springs with its big institutions.
Fortunately, we have no shortage of individualists and entrepreneurs. Aside from the figures available from the SBDC, I receive emails almost daily from Colorado Springs residents announcing a new business that they have launched. Also, teams of students from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado College are frequent competitors in top entrepreneurial contests. I also have been fortunate to meet some of the forward-thinking entrepreneurs who have relocated here because their research told them that it's a great place to build a dream from the ground up.
And now the Catalyst Campus is here to accelerate the movement, at just the right time.
Does this mean that the road ahead is smooth for small business and startups? Not at all. Unlike big companies, these businesses are working without a safety net, especially for the first few years of their enterprise. Helping provide a cushion through the difficult startup period is one of the goals of the SBDC and the Regional Business Alliance. But once a climate is established that is friendly to small business, the rewards are great for the entire city.
I cannot say it often enough: A diverse economy is a healthy economy that can survive the worst of times. And that is the very definition of small business.
Send Gazette Business Editor Ted Rayburn your ideas on business and the southern Colorado economy at 636-0194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.