Huge industrial giants like General Electric, General Motors, DuPont, Boeing and other companies are often viewed, both domestically and abroad, as the drivers of American business. And yet, both statistically and culturally, it is known that small businesses are the heart and backbone of the American economy. As a collective metaphor, the term Wall Street is often used to denote big business, while the term Main Street is applied to collectively denote small business.
The global community views American business as Wall Street, which is big and powerful. It has, at times, been the envy of the world’s capitalist economies. It has also drawn the ire of, and been targeted by, terrorists. Main Street, in contrast, is less easy to target and less symbolic of America’s industrial might. In many ways, Wall Street and Main Street do indeed intersect in a symbiotic relationship from which each feeds, or is fed by, the other. But if we were to define small business as any employing fewer than 500 people, then about 99% of American commerce is driven by small business.
Small business, or the collective Main Street, is a huge industrial entity that wields great economic power but which, like many average citizens, is often under-represented in government. Given its importance to the overall health of the American economy and its competitiveness in world markets, it is not surprising that President Obama made a February visit to Cleveland State University in Ohio to participate in the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business.
“I did not come to Cleveland to talk,” the President said. “Instead I came here to listen. I’ve spent the last month since the State of the Union sharing my vision for an America that remains the best place on earth to do business; an America that competes aggressively for every job and every industry that’s out there; and an America that wins the future.” President Obama went on to say that the way to do this is by out-educating, out-innovating, out-building and out-hustling everybody else.
You may judge for yourselves whether this is nothing more than political posturing or empty rhetoric, but my point in this discussion is that very nearly the entire metal-forging industry in the U.S. operates on Main Street (though some of its shares are traded on Wall Street). Regardless of which side of the political aisle you may choose to be, I think one would be hard-pressed to disagree with the premises of the President’s comments regarding the revitalization of American small business.
The domestic forging industry is firmly entrenched in the ranks of small business and should take any government initiatives relating to Main Street very close to its heart. I believe America’s future prosperity will come from Main Street. This may leave many who work at forging plants as executives, managers, forgemasters or laborers wondering what they can do to help secure their future and stimulate the spirit of competitiveness and entrepreneurship. There are no easy answers, but maybe the sobering premise offered us by the Indian philosopher Mahatma Ghandi is a good starting point – “Be the change you want to see in the world.”