This year's celebration of National Small Business Week, June 17-21, marks the 50th consecutive year when the U.S. Small Business Administration has designated a special week to recognize this major engine of economic growth.
Statistics make the significance of small business obvious: The SBA reports there are nearly 28 million small businesses in the United States, representing 99.7 percent of all employer firms and accounting for almost half of all private-sector employees.
These small businesses pay 43 percent of the total U.S. private-sector payroll and created 64 percent of net new jobs in the 18 years leading up to 2011.
The 2010 U.S. census shows that in the Rochester metropolitan statistical area we have 19,228 small businesses-defined as those with fewer than 500 employees-including 16,586, or 86 percent, that have fewer than 20 employees. Overall, small businesses employ 196,553 people in our metro area.
But behind these numbers, the face of small business is changing-to one that is more seasoned than ever before.
National studies show that more people over age 50 are starting small businesses today. These so-called "encore entrepreneurs" are the fastest-growing group of new business owners in the nation.
Why would seniors, at their stage in life, take on the financial and emotional risks of being encore entrepreneurs?
Some seniors are financially secure and want to pursue their dream businesses at last. Or they are in a position to offer a non-profit business service, one meeting a social need and providing a positive community impact.
But other seniors are starting businesses out of necessity. They need to supplement retirement funds battered by the Great Recession or to find alternative employment in a difficult job market.
Locally, this age group is sizable. According to the 2010 census, the median age for Monroe County is 38.5 years and the average among all six counties in the metro area is 40.6. The data also show that 24 percent of Monroe County residents and close to 25 percent of all Rochester metro residents are between the ages of 50 and 69, in the prime market segment for encore entrepreneurs.
Financial institutions are tailoring services to assist senior startups, as well as all small business ventures. At First Niagara, we created a business unit last year dedicated to serving small-business customers in our five geographic areas. This year, we supported that with enhanced business checking products designed to save small-business owners money.
For those in the 50-plus group looking to start a business, the SBA also supports encore entrepreneurs through several partnerships, including one with AARP, and its own 50-plus tool kit to help start or own a business.
So as we salute the importance of small business next week, 50 is the magic number to keep in mind-50 for the consecutive years of celebrating National Small Business Week and 50-plus for the age group representing the new wave of small-business owners.
Paul Pichoske is Central New York small-business team leader for First Niagara Bank, overseeing the Rochester and Syracuse markets.
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