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Stand for Business

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Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
Jeff Rea

I feel compelled to defend the interests of the business community. Businesses seem to be thrust into the middle of so many important conversations happening today at the local level, the state level and across the country. For example, presidential candidates can’t help but bring up business interests at every campaign stop, and the interests of business are at the center of some of the most contentious debates in the Statehouse.

Daily, we celebrate the success of businesses starting, adding a location, growing, hiring more people or doing other good things for the community. At the same time, we often condemn businesses that haven’t been successful, have closed, downsized or decided to move elsewhere. Recently, critics also have been targeting those that make a profit.

Generally, business owners are the people who live next door to you, pass you on the street or sit next to you at church on Sunday. They are ordinary people, trying to make a living, hoping that they have a product or service that customers will ultimately buy.

Business owners are people who have taken great risk to launch their venture. Many have come up with a new idea or a better way to do something. Others have an idea for an improved product. Some have identified a need in a particular geographic area that is missing. Business leaders see an opportunity then figure out how best to seize that opportunity.

Many business owners have tapped their life savings, leaned on their friends and family, mortgaged their home, dipped into their retirement, or robbed the kids' college fund just to get started. Some will experience great success, and enjoy the fruits of their labors and the rewards that go with that success. But about half will lose everything trying to make a go of it.

History is filled with business leaders who failed at first, like Akio Morita (Sony), Bill Gates, Colonel Sanders, Frank Woolworth, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. All found success after initial failures.

Businesses do want to make money, and don’t and shouldn’t have to apologize for that goal. If they make money, they stay open, they grow, they expand, they hire more people and they invest more in the community. If they don’t make money, the opposite happens.

To make money, they rely on customers. If customers aren’t buying their goods and services, they aren’t making money. There is great competition for customers, no matter what industry you are in. People have a lot of choices related to where, when and how they buy goods and services. Businesses will do whatever they can to attract and retain customers; they know consumers have a lot of choices.

To make money, they also rely on employees. There is fierce competition for employees, who have a lot of choices these days about where to go and who to work for. Businesses know that good employees make all of the difference, and every effort needs to be made to attract and retain top talent.

In the end, my hope is that people will remember the important partner that our businesses are in the growth and the development of our communities. Businesses are critical to growth and development of our local economy. We can’t vilify them; instead we must find ways to support them and champion them, and create a climate where they can grow.

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