By Michael Gunther

Small business owners have been the backbone of our economy since this nation was founded more than 200 years ago. The blacksmiths, bakers and shop keepers of that period gave birth to the entrepreneurial spirit that’s still alive in our country today.

These entrepreneurial forefathers were willing to take personal and financial risks to live their dreams and operate from their passions, offering products and services to others. The same holds true with today’s small business owners. They work long hours, make great sacrifices, and still exhibit a ‘do what it takes’ attitude—they truly are individuals exemplifying the American Spirit.

Next week is Global Entrepreneurship Week—seven days to not only celebrate the small business owner, but also encourage our youth to learn and explore what it means to be an entrepreneur, and the possibilities that entails. You may be thinking, ok, I agree, but other than the spirit and passion, what makes the small business owner so significant? Well, take a look at these pretty remarkable facts I’ve gathered from the Kauffman Foundation resources and the Small Business Administration:

1.    In 2009, 558,000 new businesses were started in the United States each month.

2.    Small businesses (defined as private companies with 500 or fewer employees) make up 99.7% of all employer firms in the U.S. Of those, nearly 40% are companies with less than 20 employees.

3.    During the first year of business, 95% of all start-ups employ less than 20 people. Over the past 30 years, these businesses have created 70.5 million jobs, leading the way in job creation.

4.    The United States’ global reputation of innovation and creativity is fueled by the small business owners taking their ideas and passions to the market.

So make a difference! I encourage you this coming week to celebrate with us by visiting the small businesses in your area. Support them with your patronage, and thanking the owners you know for taking the risk to benefit our community. Encourage our youth to speak to business owners and learn about the opportunities that await them. And if you’re thinking of starting a business, give yourself a solid foundation by participating in a small business education program like Kauffman’s FastTrac New Venture or something similar offered by a local non-profit or college.

As for me, I think being a small business owner is one of the most satisfying aspects of my life. I’m thankful that my parents encouraged me to create numerous little businesses when I was a kid—from selling donuts to creating a neighborhood newspaper and a carnival, and of course, a paper route. These experiences provided me with the confidence to make my destiny happen, to build a company based on my passion for helping others follow their dreams and build their companies.

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