Author speaks to local business people

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
CONCORD — Elected officials and businesspeople sometimes disagree on how best to support businesses and create jobs.
Thursday, Michael Shuman, author of the bestseller “The Small-Mart Revolution,” shared some insights that could help Cabarrus County do just that.
The Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation’s annual stakeholders summit, held at the Cabarrus Country Club, invited Shuman to speak.
Shuman’s book describes ways that small businesses can, and do, outperform global corporations and “big box” retailers like Wal-Mart.
Many of those strategies, Shuman said, could help Cabarrus and other North Carolina counties grow their economies and sustain that growth.
He asserts that local businesses put more money back into the economy than global businesses.
Shuman used the difference between an independent bookstore and a national chain as an illustration.
“Roughly speaking, you buy the same book at the same price, and in the local economy you get three times the tax collections, three times the employment, three times the charitable contributions,” he said.
He suggested that local leaders do a retrospective study to find out how the money they’ve spent to grow jobs has impacted the local economy.
“What you find ought to inform how you spend public money in the future,” Shuman said.
In Cabarrus County, tax incentives, one of the most common forms of economic support for new or expanding businesses, have been controversial.
Shuman suggested that tax incentives aren’t the only way to recruit new businesses or support expansions.
“We are seeing dozens of communities around the United States shifting their policies,” he said.
Alternative options include putting into place a bidding process, where new and existing companies would offer competing proposals, instead of considering incentives on a case-by-case basis.
Cabarrus Commissioner Chris Measmer, who has opposed tax incentives, said after the meeting that he enjoyed hearing Shuman’s views.
“Since I’ve been a commissioner, I’ve been a proponent of helping small businesses,” he said.
Measmer said he’d like to explore ideas other than tax incentives for supporting job growth.
Another way to stimulate job growth, Shuman said, was to make the county more self-reliant.
By changing procurement policies and buying locally whenever possible, he said the county could create thousands of new jobs.
“If we can get more specific, if we can map out … what are the most promising, he best paying of those jobs, I think we can make a road map to prosperity.”
There are also ways to encourage local residents to shop small businesses.
One of Shuman’s ideas: a local gift card, good for purchases at participating area retailers.
Shuman said this could encourage people to check out businesses they might have never heard of before.
Finally, changes to securities laws that would allow a state or local stock exchange might encourage more small or regional businesses to sell stocks.
That would give people in the county a way to invest, literally, in their future.
While EDC President John Cox said those changes to securities law are far in the future, if they happen at all, he said he was heartened by Shuman’s perspective.
“One of the stories we have to tell is that economic development is a big tent,” Cox said.
“There is a lot of room under that tent for a lot of approaches.”
After the meeting, Shuman said he felt Cabarrus County and central North Carolina had a lot of potential for growth and recovery.
“I spend a lot of time in communities with poor leadership and assets,” he said.
Cabarrus is better off, with unemployment figures not as high as some areas of the country and a lot of resources available.
“I’m optimistic,” Shuman said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.