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Small business still swimming upstream

Like big bears hovering over the waterline picking off salmon swimming upstream, the economy is not  much of a friend to small business. As you probably realize, small businesses generated 65% of the job growth between 1993 and 2008, and represent about half of the private-sector employment in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration. “Smaller firms, with fewer than 20 employees, account for 25% of all jobs, but they generated 40% of the [job] growth in the last expansion in 2001,” says Joseph Brusuelas, a director and senior economist at Moody’s Economy.com.

Nouriel Roubini, the NYU economist,  writes in a column published in BusinessWeek that the small business economy, is still mired in an “deep and persistent recession”. In fact, a Goldman Sachs analyst recently explained that small business sentiment is out of line with other measures of the economy, like GDP.

What’s the answer? A recent meeting of chief executives concluded that efforts need to center on getting more credit to small and mid-market businesses. The CEOs argued that the main impediment to a faster economic recovery was the high level of unemployment and called for ensuring that credit was available to jump-start hiring, with an emphasis on smaller businesses. I seriously doubt that’s the holdup and am inclined to agree more with the NFIB Chief Economist.

William Dunkelberg, Chief Economist, National Federation of Independent Business, arguing in a CNBC guest blog that banks shouldn’t make bad loans … they’ve made enough already … explains that in an October NFIB survey, only 4% of small business owners identified financing as their biggest problem. The lack of revenue to stimulate hiring was by far the biggest drag on the lagging employment figures.

Time magazine reports further that the NFIB recently found that 86% of small businesses surveyed reported that earnings either fell or were flat in the past three months and 82% posted either flat or lower sales. Over the next three months, 21% plan to cut workers and 32% expect to reduce inventory.

On another front, Goldman Sachs and Warren Buffet recently announced a $500 million small business investment plan that, while small, represents some valuable initiatives.

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