By Patrick Skarr, Account Supervisor

Thanks to the political calendar, small businesses will once again find themselves in the hot seat and at the center of a feverish debate across our country premised on how we are going to get our economy growing again.

Everyday our news broadcasts are filled with a cutthroat messaging war to cast one group of leaders as the crusaders of small business and the defenders of entrepreneurs, while the others are simply out of touch with reality and just don’t understand.

Thanks to the numerous annual research reports produced by the Small Business Administration, we can figure out if the focus on small business is correct. You can access their fact sheets on for the national impact of small businesses here and the profile of the Illinois economy here.  

After a brief review, it becomes evident that every politician talks about small business, because of the incredible contribution small businesses make to our economy.

For the inner wonk in you who wants to dazzle dinner companions, here are some key facts about the role of small business from a macro perspective:

  •  Firms with fewer than 500 employees represent 99.7% of all the employer firms in the country
  •  Small businesses employ about half of the private sector workforce
  •  And most importantly, small businesses have been responsible for 65% of new net jobs over the past 17 years.

The latest data for Illinois is a few years behind and is from 2008, so the impact of the recession impacts isn’t reflected in the following stats:

  • In the state there are 1.1 million small businesses, with 255,769 firms employing individuals
  •  Small businesses employed 48.4% of the all private-sector jobs in Illinois
  • Illinois’ small business community experienced rocky times and struggled to have positive net job creation from 2004-2007

Being in small business is tough. The recession, credit squeeze and changing employer burdens have made it more difficult for small businesses to start, stay in business, or expand.

One of our clients, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, recently testified that they identified more than 300 businesses that had gone out of business since 2008.

However, no one has ever gotten rich by betting against America and it’s entrepreneurs for the long term. Through the booms and bust of business cycles successful businesses rise to the top and innovators invent their product or idea, regardless of the economic environment.

So while 2011 was basically flat, things didn’t get tremendously better, but they didn’t get worse either, 2012 is a year of opportunity for small businesses – and in turn, great opportunity for all businesses. 

The latest National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Small Business Economic Trends Survey reveals incrementally sustained optimism. We learned in economics class in high school taught that you want to enter at the bottom, not the top of the market.

For small businesses who are struggling to get their messages to customers in an evolving social marketing world, while dealing with the threat of inflation and deflation, and the continuing uncertainty about future demand, now is the time to offer tailored and helpful public relations advice. 

It’s not always rocket science either, small business owners are the chief executive officer and often the chief janitorial officer. They are doing it all and can use helpful, practical and easy to implement advice.

There are millions of small business owners tinkering with their next great idea and its important to keep an ear to the ground to help connect these entrepreneurs with the resources they need to get things started. Helping a business get through its lean startup phase or their lean survival through whatever you want to call this difficult economic environment phase is a challenge, but one with tremendous upside.

For the next several months our political leaders will spend billions of dollars on campaigns about which policies will unleash the next great wave of economic growth and prosperity, let’s not forget about the small businesses in our community who are making a difference today.

Be sure and provide kind words to the neighborhood storeowner. Ask how things are going and offer to write a positive review or recommend their product or service to a friend. 

Do what no amount of government policy can do, stick up for the small business owner and help them grow their business, one customer or client at a time.