Small is beautiful

 In 2014-12

Share this story:

Before returning to this magazine in March, I spent 15 years working for billionaire-owned private companies. No, this isn’t a liberal journalist’s rant against the 1%, or in the case of my former employers, Michael Bloomberg and the Newhouse family, the 0.1%. There’s much to be admired about companies with vast amounts of patient capital, wielded by leaders unconcerned about quarterly earnings fluctuations or the short lifecycles of private-equity-owned companies. But now that I’m back in an environment more akin to much of the working world, I marvel at the ability of small businesses to thrive. That’s because the deck seems so stacked against them.

Consolidation in many industries — auto dealerships, banks, airlines, broadcasters, shopping malls, hospitals and physician practices, to name a few — has created major barriers to entry that benefit the large and entrenched. With large companies often limiting their vendor lists and astutely wielding political influence, bigness begets bigness. Not surprisingly, the rate of new-business formation nationwide has slumped more than 25% since 1978, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. North Carolina hasn’t had a new community bank startup in five years.

It’s motivating, then, to read this issue’s Small Business of the Year stories about how the companies led by Oscar Wong, Jennifer Appleby, Pete Burgess and George Halages defied the odds. While their success particularly impressed our judges, they represent thousands of small businesses across North Carolina that have found sustainable niches. Wong envisioned craft brewing’s popularity years ahead of the pack, but now he must defend his Highland brand against bigger rivals who have moved onto his turf. Appleby shifted the culture at her ad agency amid massive media-industry tumult. Halages outworked and outlasted rubber-gasket competitors, while Burgess capitalized on demand for mold-free basements.

Whether such stories of small-business success are pleasant distractions from an inevitable shift toward bigness is concerning. But this month’s cover story offers more hope that big doesn’t always win. No matter how one views Jim Goodmon — and there are many who don’t share his politics — his commitment to the Triangle and North Carolina is beyond question. While Capitol Broadcasting Co. is a substantial business, it is a small speck in a media universe dominated by a handful of companies. Yet Capitol excels at attracting viewers and website visitors in a manner unmatched by giant rivals. As consolidation sweeps through the business world, one hopes Goodmon and our small-business honorees become more the rule, rather than the exception.

 

Recent Posts
Contact Us

Questions or feedback? Drop us a message!

Start typing and press Enter to search