As the election season begins, it almost seems politicians are obligated to tout small business as one way to stave off further economic collapse and bring back the American Dream for all of those whom it has left behind.
Small business overall does have a tremendous economic footprint in this country, employing half of all private sector employees, by government estimates. But small business is also a really big umbrella. The United States Small Business Association includes any firm with less than 500 employees a small business. It’s easy to see how a business with 500 employees could be critical to a town.
Then there are people like Laura Cowan. She hopes to be a small business owner, but she’s not there yet. Cowan runs a green, affordable parenting blog out of her home, and patches together paying work while she balances full-time care of her young daughter. She is what has been called a “micro-preneur.” These are people who run very small businesses, typically with only one, or at most a handful, of employees.
In developing countries, micro-enterprise has received great attention for helping move some people, especially women, out of abject poverty. In this country, that strategy has been tried, but has worked less well. One reason is because starting a small business is very high risk, and pretty low-reward. There are people who begin these types of businesses because they have no other way to support themselves, but there are also a lot of people looking to make a change in their lives and thinking starting a business might be a good idea.
It is less certain what the effects of micro-enterprises are on the economy in this country. They haven’t been studied anywhere near as much as small businesses. It’s not clear how often micro-enterprises turn into flourishing small businesses, how often they stay small, and how often they fail.
Here are portraits of three different Micro-entrepreneurs in Michigan: