BY CONNIE MARSHALL

They are everywhere. Drive down almost any street, in any city and town in Washington and you will see them. Retailers and manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors, one-person shops all significant employers. They are small businesses, and they are the dynamos that power Washington’s economy.

The Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration recently released its latest Washington Small Business Profile and what it shows may surprise some people, but others of us have known it all along. Without its small business owners, Washington’s economy would not be nearly as strong as it is today.

The report shows that in 2004 an estimated 194,951 or 98.1 percent of the state’s employer firms were small businesses. And that number does not even include the thousands of non-employer one-person firms scattered across the state. These businesses generated a sizeable amount of economic activity. In 2002, small firms (those with fewer than 500 employees) employed 54.7 percent of the state’s non-farm private sector employees. What is even more remarkable is that from 2001 to 2002 (the latest data available) firms with fewer than 20 employees saw net job gains of 6,206 while firms with more than 500 employees actually lost jobs.

The diversity of its small business owners helps create integrated communities that make the state stronger. In 2002 (latest figures) women-owned firms totaled 137,475, an increase of 12 percent from 1997, and they generated $17.5 billion in revenues. Moreover, there were 10,269 Hispanic-owned firms, an increase of 3 percent from 1997; 6,985 Black-owned firms, an increase of 26 percent; and 26,872 Asian-owned firms, an increase of 17 percent. Clearly small business ownership is drawing more and more of the state’s residents into the economic mainstream.

Main Street is where the state’s citizens go to work, so policymakers should consider just how programs, rules, and regulations will affect the state’s job-creating small businesses. According to Advocacy research, just complying with federal regulations costs the nation’s smallest firms $7,647 per employee each year. That is 45 percent more than the per-employee costs of their larger counterparts.

The uneven burden of regulations on small business is not only a problem at the federal level. Because state and local regulations can also fall disproportionately on small businesses, Advocacy is encouraging states to pass laws requiring their agencies to consider the impact of regulations on small business.

Small businesses are dynamic, creative, innovative, job-creating, and they are powering the state’s economy. Take a look around. There they are, in every city and every town. They are providing jobs, growth, and economic opportunity for all of Washington. So next time you are in a store, shop, or warehouse along with your purchase you just might want to say “thanks.”

Connie Marshall is the Office of Advocacy Regional Advocate for Region X, U.S. Small Business Administration. She is the direct link between small business owners, government agencies, state legislators, small business associations, and SBA’s Office of Advocacy. Contact her at (206) 553-5231 or [email protected]
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