• Phil Roos

Government – Catalyst or Impediment to Small Business Growth

Reflections from the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) Matchmaking Summit

As a participant in today’s SBAM Matchmaking Summit held in Livonia, Michigan, I was a witness to the positive role government can play in catalyzing growth opportunities for small businesses. The summit is a public/private initiative organized by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Pure Michigan Business Connect in conjunction with the Small Business Association of Michigan to connect buyers to suppliers of Michigan goods and services. The goal is to help build Michigan’s economy by making it easy for companies buying products to find qualified Michigan-based suppliers.

It is difficult to judge the ultimate impact of such an initiative. That said, there was clearly a buzz of activity and transaction door-opening occurring between the nearly 400 attendees representing Michigan-based small businesses with products or services to sell and the many “buying” companies (including Meijer, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Michigan State University, Amway, and many others) offering direct engagement with those sellers. There were connections being made, deals being initiated, and a sense that this was an opening to new opportunities to expand the revenue of many Michigan businesses. A video address from Governor Snyder and a senior MEDC executive reinforced how this initiative fits within the big picture of continuing Michigan’s economic comeback and making it easier for small businesses to succeed in the state. It seemed like a perfect example of the positive role government can play in catalyzing small business growth.

For me, the cognitive dissonance came when a U.S. congressman took the stage to speak with passion about his efforts in Congress to keep government from being an impediment to business. He cited examples of over-regulation, high taxes and other familiar complaints. But, his overall message was clear: government is a barrier, not a catalyst, to small business growth and job creation. To add to that the obvious elephant in the room: the recent announcement of major funding cuts for MEDC, including pending layoffs of up to 65 staffers, calling into question whether events like this will be possible in future years given a leaner funding model for the agency.

Clearly, there are positive direct roles government can play – in Michigan and throughout this country – in making it easier for small business to succeed, and these roles extend beyond cutting regulation and taxes. And yes, there are times when regulations and red tape can be an inhibitor to success. Let’s just hope we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that we preserve the funding and support needed to continue and expand worthy initiatives like the one I participated in today in Livonia.