Small businesses

Small businesses provided the backbone of our community

2013-10-06T00:00:00Z Small businesses provided the backbone of our communityLorri L. Feldt
October 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What great stories the 20 Under 40 honorees have! Each leads an amazing professional life and contributes to the community in so many ways with much promise ahead.

About a handful of the class are small business people, a subject I’ll focus on here: those risk-takers, who put their idea, talents and livelihood on the line with no guarantee of the outcome, unlike most of us who know pretty much that the paycheck will come. Sometimes we don’t think about how much small business owners contribute to and serve the community with their ventures.

The most basic part of business lies in the service of customers. When Adam Smith articulated his philosophy of capitalism in "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776 and in his earlier writings, he focused on what he believed was the honorable and moral notion of serving and pleasing customers. Don’t we all see this most directly in action with small business owners and often their employees when well-led by the owner?

The joy and pride in serving their customer, like the greeting we got at lunch at Fresh Coast Coffee in Gary last week, where the owner welcomed us like family and let me sample her restaurant’s sweet tea before ordering, assuring me I’d like it better than the bottled kind. Or the small factory owner who proudly leads visitors on a plant tour and knows how to operate every piece of equipment on the floor. While one can get good service from a large business, a small business owner often serves customers who are his or her neighbors, with whom he shares our communities and our region. The service provided is a personal expression. As the business grows, the jobs grow and the employees come from within.

In our seven-county region, well over 17,000 businesses (97.4 percent of the region’s businesses) have less than 100 employees, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. They are a diverse array of industrial suppliers and machine shops, high tech, retail stores, food processors, contractors and professional services firms, and more. Their diversity strengthens the economy just as holding diverse investments makes for a stronger portfolio. They tend to buy more goods and services from local suppliers and hire from the community. More of the money spent at area small businesses stays in our region than larger businesses, often with home offices far away.

And let’s talk jobs. According to the SBA, half of private sector workers are employed by small businesses and they create an even higher percentage of net new jobs. Small businesses create the future; very few businesses start big. A guy named Sam Walton opened his first little store in 1962. Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft in Gates’ garage.

Each small business owner wakes up to the day-to-day task of competing in the market for the attentions of the customer. Businesses and consumers both have a multitude of choices for the goods we purchase so it’s a success each and every time a buyer opens the wallet or a purchase order. In that sense every business owner is an innovator; they have found ways of differentiating their products or services so that the customer chooses theirs.

I have heard it said that Northwest Indiana does not innovate or that innovation takes place somewhere else with a showier identity like Silicon Valley or the Tech Corridor. I think that is a narrow view of innovation. We have to look no further than the 20 Under 40 to see innovation at work by them. Anyone who has viewed videos produced by Wade Breitzke’s company, We Create Media, raves about the fresh, powerful approach he uses to communicate in that medium. While not yet on the marketplace, Julie Bombacino’s Just Food product innovates and will improve quality of life for the tube-fed individuals she wants to serve. Her service comes from the love of a mom for her child, whom she calls her Chief Inspiration Officer, looking for a better way to provide for him.

Small business and innovation will be in the spotlight at the 22nd annual E-Day Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 6. We will celebrate entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds who will actually get part of the day off (a rare event) so we can hear their stories and applaud their work. Join us in celebrating small business. For more details, please visit

Lorri L. Feldt is the Regional Director of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center

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