In reality, an overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs are small business owners who are simply looking to capitalize on the needs in specific industries or geographies. According to the Small Business Administration, there are more than 27 million small businesses in the United States. In Pennsylvania, small businesses represented 29.7 percent of economic activity in 2010.
More importantly, the SBA reports that between 60 percent and 80 percent of all new jobs created in our country can be attributed to small businesses. So as the U.S. economy looks to rebound from the recent recession, small businesses must play a pivotal role.
Small entrepreneurial enterprises run the gamut: hair salons, restaurants, metal-working shops, home repair businesses, Web commerce firms, freelance writing, landscaping, retail stores, organic farming, home theater installation — virtually anything you can think of. But what's often missing is the business acumen to convert a unique talent into a steady income stream.
In recent years, community colleges have seen a growing need to support small business start-ups. In response, they formed the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, which helps community colleges nationwide link their traditional role of workforce development with entrepreneurial development. The result is innovative programs and courses that advance economic growth and prosperity in the communities served by the colleges.
Think about it: Who better to train small business owners and budding entrepreneurs than community colleges?
•We're more affordable than private trade schools and traditional four-year schools, leaving more money for start-up capital or enabling education in the first place.
•Our faculty often has real-world experience in the fields they are teaching, giving them the ability to impart knowing insight and guidance.
•We teach practical, marketable skills that many other institutions do not.
Another recession-related impact is that many of the people who have been laid off have considerable skills and experience. They range from Ph.D.s to teachers and middle-management professionals who are victims of corporate and government budget cuts. At one time, community colleges were trying to enhance people's skills for a career path. Now we're working with individuals at different stages of their work lives who are trying to find a whole new career path. This is a growing need in our region and around the nation. Community colleges fulfill the demand perfectly.
To build on that need and leverage community colleges' strategic advantage, Lehigh Carbon Community College opened the Business Enterprise Center this fall in Tamaqua. The Business Enterprise Center bridges the classroom and the business world. With the gracious support of the Morgan Foundation, we renovated a building to include instruction area, a board room and three "hatcheries" that act as small incubators for individuals in the beginning stages of starting their businesses.
The whole idea is to nurture LCCC students and help them take their ideas from concept to profitable reality. We will assist with business plans, which they can submit into competitions. We will hold weekend-long, small-business boot camps where strategies and tactics can be developed. We will provide a network of support and camaraderie in which fledgling entrepreneurs can learn from each other and LCCC staff.
The important thing to remember is that the Business Enterprise Center — and entrepreneurship for that matter — isn't only for business students. It is suitable for a nursing graduate who wants to work his or her own hours serving clients in their homes. It is appropriate for a construction management graduate who designs and builds amazing home additions. It is ideal for a music and sound production degree holder who wants to start a recording studio.
As evidenced by the significant interest we've had in our programs, the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in America. Our nation's community colleges are committed to nurturing that spirit and removing perceived barriers to entrepreneurship. With our help, people with good ideas will be limited only by their ambition.
Donald Snyder, J.D., is president of Lehigh Carbon Community College and received the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship Recognition Award in the entrepreneurial president category at the eighth Annual NACCE Conference in Washington, D.C.