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Don’t forget about Alabama’s entrepreneurs

By Slade Blackwell

Lately you would have to be hiding under a rock not to hear a politician talk about job creation. Phrases like “economic development,” “industrial recruitment” and “workforce training” have become widely integrated into political conversations.

It makes sense. After all, most Alabamians are more concerned about having good jobs than just about anything else other than the health and well-being of their families.

The challenge is that most of the government efforts to recruit industry seem to center on large employers. Think about the employers coming to Alabama that make headlines: Mercedes, Austal, Airbus, and Remington, just to name a few. These large employers and others like them are tremendously important to the Alabama economy, as they account for a little more than half the private-sector labor force.

Sometimes lost in the conversation are the firms that employ fewer than 500 employees or have no employees at all. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, they “employ 49.0 percent of the private-sector labor force” in Alabama.

Nationwide the SBA reports that “small firms accounted for 63 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993 and mid-2013.” While Alabama should continue to recruit large employers, we also need to focus on making it easier to start a business or grow an existing small business in Alabama.

As a partner in a family business, I saw firsthand how daunting it could be for a small business to manage taxes across different jurisdictions in Alabama. To that end, I sponsored legislation that now requires the Alabama Department of Revenue to create an option for businesses to file tax reports and pay sales, use and rental taxes for the state, cities and counties at one spot online.

That was just one idea, but we need to come up with more to get Alabamians back to work. One of the most important lessons that I have learned as a legislator is that we need to listen to what entrepreneurs actually need and try to remove government obstacles for business rather than trying to create more programs and incentives simply on the hope they will work.

All levels of government in Alabama should take notice. We must recognize the government’s role is to support job creation rather than control it. Recent issues with food trucks and transportation innovator Uber in Birmingham are perfect examples of areas in which government needs to listen to entrepreneurs and the public in an effort to generate more opportunity for Alabamians.

Starting a business is a risky proposition. The SBA reports that nationally “about half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more.” That risk alone keeps many would-be entrepreneurs from ever taking the first step to chase their dream, which could mean a future job for someone else. With that in mind, Alabama’s governments should first support job creation by keeping tax, regulation and paperwork burdens on small businesses as light as possible.

Alabama is blessed to have many creative, talented people who might just have the next idea that could turn into a blockbuster business. Perhaps the best “economic development” tool for many of these would-be small businessmen and women in Alabama is to listen, encourage them and then get out of their way.

Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby counties in District 15. For more information about Slade, visit www.sladeblackwell.com or follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sladeblackwell. To reach him by phone, call 334-242-7851.

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