Above: Mike Manfro of 360 Health and Fitness, one of the many small businesses in Warrenton
Why small business matters
By Miles Friedman, Director of Economic Development, Fauquier County
If your idea of the “good life” includes vitality, action, challenge, adventure, and forward movement, then you are ready to embrace our local economy! The life of a local economic system must be vital and filled with new ideas, growth, and forward motion; the alternative is stagnation. In this way, local economics somewhat parallels our outlook on life. Study after study has demonstrated the link between remaining active, mentally and physically, to a longer, healthier life. Much the same is true of a local economy. Certainly we believe this in Fauquier County!
Entrepreneurship is the heart of the economy, be it locally, regionally or nationally. For it is the risk takers, the creative thinkers, and the innovators who serve as the entrepreneurs that spur the heartbeat of an economic system. Likewise, it is that spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that produces a vibrant, spirited community.
A study at MIT as long ago as the 1970s found that the biggest difference between healthy communities and those in economic decline could be found in the birth rates of new businesses. Numerous subsequent studies suggest that the most consistent facilitators of economic and job growth are our abundant smaller businesses.
Surprisingly, some people, even very qualified people in the economic development community, have long undervalued the importance of entrepreneurship, innovation, and small businesses in sustaining and growing local economies. Thus, my peers have long valued the periodic “big splash” of a new large employer over the steady growth that comes from encouraging entrepreneurs and sustaining smaller local businesses. Fortunately, this trend has changed dramatically over the past decade, and, for example, states now spend about as much on existing business retention and expansion as they do on seeking new investment.
Fauquier County is a community of small businesses. We do feature some great large firms, and their contributions in terms of investment, tax revenues, and job creation are invaluable. Yet, like so many communities, the heart of our local economy is made up of a large and diverse collection of smaller businesses…businesses whose hearts and souls are tied to Fauquier County. These are businesses who were largely born here, whose owners tend to live here and identify with Fauquier County and the towns or villages in which they are located.
How Can We Help?
Small businesses can benefit from all kinds of resources. Some are looking for technical assistance that helps them with management, finances, marketing, or human resource issues. Some are looking for niche financing that allows them to augment their product, grow their production, explore new markets and/or employ modern technologies. Most small business owners also enjoy opportunities to exchange ideas and information with their peers, to learn from the successes and failures of others, and to network in the hopes of finding people with whom they can collaborate/partner. One great trend in economic development is known as “economic gardening” in which local government becomes a more active partner with local firms and helps find ways to stimulate their health and growth.
It takes a forward-thinking local government to embrace these philosophies and here is where Fauquier County has shown its leadership. In the last five years, the county has not just committed itself to supporting its existing largely small business base but it has created programs and committed resources that help implement this approach.
Does this discourage outside investors? No, quite the contrary, for the best incentive to attract new companies is the presence of a strong program that supports the growth and development of existing companies. Even large companies tend to be more successful if they are entrepreneurial, and today’s “prospect” turns into tomorrow’s existing business, if they should choose to locate here. Thus, our business attraction program benefits from our ability to demonstrate that we will support their growth and development once they are a part of our community.
This adds up to a winning formula. Create a sense of support for business growth and an atmosphere of innovation and you can boost the success rate of small businesses while attracting the attention of larger firms who seek a compatible environment. In this way, Fauquier County, through its various forms of assistance, and particularly through its three business enterprise centers, is leading the way in growing a vital and healthy economy.
Just for a point of interest: a recent study of eleven counties in the Virginia Piedmont cited Fauquier County, along with Albemarle County, as the two with the strongest commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation. Doesn’t if feel good to be regarded as a leader?
We choose vitality over stagnation…and that means a higher quality of life for all residents!