Business Forum: Nontech startup businesses need aid
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Harold Miller's Oct. 5 column Regional Insights correctly identified the key to jump-start local job growth: entrepreneurial startup businesses, which accounted for all of the net new jobs created in the United States between 1980 and 2005.
However, Mr. Miller missed the mark on an important and often overlooked and undervalued source of these jobs -- traditional, nontech entrepreneurs -- when he solicited support for high-tech startup ventures. Traditional entrepreneurs are often passed over and, as a result, underfunded in this age of high-tech research-based businesses, which often provides higher return on investments.
Certainly the funding and growth of high-tech startups is crucial for our region. The work which Innovation Works, Project Olympus at CMU and BlueTree Allied Angels do is exemplary in supporting the development of these high-tech startups.
But it must be pointed out that traditional nontech entrepreneurs help create the economic and social capital that has come to define much of the dynamic cultural fabric of greater Pittsburgh, making it the vibrant and unique place it is today.
These entrepreneurs are behind the locally owned coffee shops, bed and breakfasts in the Laurel Highlands, small corner delis, local artist studios, business consulting firms, hair salons, landscape and event planning businesses that are part of our daily lives. Many of these entrepreneurs currently take business skill development programs offered by our Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University and by other regional business centers dedicated to supporting this type of training.
However, by pooling all of our economic resources into supporting only high-tech ventures, which can be quickly purchased and relocated, we are ignoring many of our local Pittsburgh entrepreneurs who form such an integral part of our neighborhoods and communities.
Traditional entrepreneurship must continue to receive the vital support and funding to create economic wealth for the region. It is my hope that the new Small Business Jobs Act will ease the credit crisis, and that community banks, which play an essential economic role locally, will subsequently increase their lending to these traditional entrepreneurs.
The good news is that in a study done by CNNMoney.com, in conjunction with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Pittsburgh ranked second best among large metropolitan areas to launch a small business.
The report, done in 2009, cites the region's attractive educational talent pool combined with the city's cultural center, unified neighborhoods and strong work ethic as being factors that make the Pittsburgh metropolitan region such an attractive area in which to launch a business.
There is risk associated with investing and supporting these traditional entrepreneurs. But the cost of not doing so far outweighs it.
I think about this every day as our center works to provide support for Pittsburgh-based entrepreneurs who walk through our doors. Let us collectively make sure we keep the doors open for our nontech businesses. This will benefit all of us.
First Published October 16, 2010 12:00 am