The 2012 presidential candidates have spent much of the past month championing the cause of America’s small businesses, a diverse group of startups, mom-and-pop stores, family farms and other companies that have modest annual sales figures and/or payrolls with fewer than 500 employees in common. Most economists agree that small and medium-sized businesses, rather than large corporations, act as the strongest engine of job growth in the American economy, and due to the unemployment rate’s significance as a barometer of the country’s well-being, sitting incumbents (and the political aspirants who hope to replace them) treat the fate of small firms as a big agenda item during any given election year.
As they tailor their small business strategies for the campaign ahead, the current crop of contenders should perhaps consider this statistic from the recent Duke University study on Gulf Coast restoration: As many as two-thirds of the companies contributing to existing ecosystem rehabilitation efforts on the Gulf Coast are categorized as small- or medium-sized enterprises. While many of these companies are concentrated in and around the Mississippi River Delta, dozens of these firms are located in places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida – swing states that fall on the radar of economic analysts and pollsters from both parties. Individually, these companies occupy relatively tailored niches within their respective sectors, but collectively, they are at the vanguard of an emerging green sector that is providing people with jobs all across the country.
For the better part of two decades, restoration on the Gulf Coast has been primarily limited to initiatives that escaped the notice of bigger firms. Still, these projects have provided small-scale companies based in the United States with valuable opportunities to gain expertise in habitat restoration, experience that could allow them to go toe-to-toe with larger foreign companies once bigger projects like sediment diversions take shape in the estuaries, deltas and coastal ecosystems stretching from Corpus Christi to Clearwater. Likewise, these companies will be able to engage in a new, global export market for ecosystem restoration knowledge and tools.
Already, these firms are providing jobs for thousands of people across the United States, so imagine how many more people they could employ if restoration funding for coastal rehabilitation projects were dramatically increased. One thing is certain: passage of the RESTORE Act, which has garnered bipartisan support in Congress, would expand the already large impact of small businesses in this growing field by boosting demand for small-scale machinery manufacturers, environmental engineering companies and their workers based here in America.
84% of Florida voters support bill to spend BP fines on Gulf restoration [Delta Dispatches]
Restoring the Gulf Coast: New Markets for Established Firms [Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance, and Competitiveness]
Sizing up the small-business jobs machine [The Wall Street Journal]
Small business leading job market back [The Bottom Line – MSNBC]
Small businesses, job creation and growth: Facts, obstacles, and best practices [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)]