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Collaboration between smaller businesses one key to wide success

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Amy Sweet, Editor and COO, Colorado Springs Business Journal
  • Amy Sweet, Editor and COO, Colorado Springs Business Journal

My dad's small business in Memphis put four kids through college and technical school, advanced degrees and business launches.

Rice Rehab, an occupational therapy business in Pennsylvania, is putting my sister's two daughters through nursing school and university educations. And my brother's construction company in the southeast U.S. takes care of his family and the families of about 50 employees.

In my family, entrepreneurism is just part of the culture. My grandfather, uncles and great uncles all owned their own businesses. Other families talk about politics; in mine, the discussions cover taxes, regulations and the increasing cost of labor.

My grandfather opened his construction firm just after World War II, when everything seemed possible. At the age of 5, my dad became a regular fixture on the job site, and he spent every summer working on apartment buildings and houses, office spaces and churches. He remembers nailing together a wooden chair on the construction site, and taking it home. He used that same design to make rocking chairs for my daughters several decades later. My dad's legacy will live on in the buildings he created across the Mid-South.

Today, my dad and two uncles are retired from homebuilding, architecture and painting firms that spawned the third generation of builders in our family. It now seems my brother's children — the oldest a junior in high school — might make it four generations of small-business ownership for our family.

But the independence and control that come from owning one's own company also produce a full share of worries. I remember my dad worrying during every economic downturn, every failed contract bid. He fretted over where our family would have to cut back, but also about what he was going to tell the people who worked for his small subcontracting construction firm.

He took few vacations and even fewer holidays, always close to home, so he could return if needed. I know we had a few family vacations where he was present only on the weekends, because he had to spend the week in Memphis or Jackson or Hattiesburg, always chasing the next job.

It worked for him, just like it's working for my sister and brother. And just like it is working for small businesses here in Colorado Springs and in Colorado. The state's small businesses are responsible for a total of 1 million jobs and in 2014 alone received $654.3 million in Small Business Administration loans.

Across Colorado, about 97.4 percent of companies are classified as small businesses, companies that range from a single employee to fewer than 500. Small businesses make up a wide range of industries, and those firms keep unemployment low in the state and do the lion's share of work to maintain a robust economy here.

The lessons my grandfather passed on to my dad are mirrored in thousands of small businesses throughout the state. He learned to never cut corners, never be afraid to take risks and always treat people fairly. He never hesitated to train people in the craft he loved, and he brought success to many in a challenging industry.

Cooperation among small businesses is common — no matter what the industry. Here in Colorado Springs, several organizations have the sole mission of aiding entrepreneurs and small business owners alike. The Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Service Corps of Retired Executives provide certifications, training, advice and other information to fledgling companies.

Networking groups, including the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Business Council, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC, and the Black Chamber of Commerce, all exist to help small businesses and find ways to collaborate.

The current co-working trend also creates cultures of cooperation and collaboration — something that didn't exist when my grandfather and my dad launched their businesses.

On June 6, the SBDC hosts the second annual "State of Small Business" event, where companies will come together to celebrate success, learn about challenges and work together to create a vibrant economy in Colorado Springs. We'll unpack what it takes to be successful in a competitive economy and how to grow businesses to create jobs.

And we'll celebrate the same business values that I learned from my father, brother, uncles and grandfather: Always be fair, always treat people well, always do your best. And always, always work hard.

— Amy Sweet, Editor and COO,Colorado Springs Business Journal

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