How America can create jobs
The nation's entrepreneurial prowess may be the best hope to stem 9.7 percent unemployment. Companies from a laser-tech firm to a baby-sitting network are harnessing new ideas – and helping reinvent the economy.
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Economists generally support this kind of multiprong strategy, but the basic goal is to get the economy's natural job-creation forces working again. The hiring will need to come from all quarters, including giant corporations and the hair salon down the street. Yet year in, year out, a healthy share of it comes from entrepreneurs, an American resource that dates back to Robert Fulton's steamboat.Skip to next paragraph
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So the questions loom: Where are the new
Valentin Gapontsevs? How can America regain its entrepreneurial edge? Even more fundamentally, does the nation still have an innovative culture?
The encouraging news is that it does: America's tradition of garage-to-riches start-ups, extending from Alexander Graham Bell to Jeff Bezos, remains relatively vibrant. Successful entrepreneurs exist everywhere from the mountains of Montana to the glass-and-steel canyons of Chicago. Today they are more globally connected than start-up firms have ever been. They span every industry, not just high-tech fields like lasers. Many of the founders are immigrants, and their ranks are being expanded increasingly by women, minorities, and people over age 50.
Nor have the innovative ideas stopped flowing just because of a deep recession:
•In Kokomo, Ind., a city hit by the travails of the US auto industry, a new company called Zuna Infotech is hiring more than 100 people with computer skills. The firm is serving clients who want to outsource their information-technology work, but in this case the jobs will be "onshore" in the US rather than in cubicles in India.
•Across the Southwestern US, Sprouts Farmers Market is turning home-grown cauliflower and navel oranges into big profits. Its concept – grocery stores that buy as much produce as possible from local farmers – has landed the Phoenix firm on Inc. magazine's list of fast-growing privately owned firms, yielding 2,500 jobs in just eight years.
•In the Boston area, a start-up called Pixily is growing jobs by helping small businesses ditch their file cabinets and store their documents digitally. Founder Prasad Thammineni, a serial entrepreneur from India, says he expects to double his payroll this year to about 20 employees.
"Being able to find information efficiently is the reason [businesses] find the service useful," says Mr. Thammineni.
Like many entrepreneurs, he stumbled on the idea for a business while trying to solve a problem – figuring out how to store his graduate-school notes. But what defines an entrepreneur is turning an epiphany into a viable product. In this case it took some nimble software, developed by a Pixily cofounder, that offers a no-fuss way to process all the documents that clients mail in monthly.
These kinds of employers represent the spearhead of job creation, even if many of them fail. "There's no question that they [high-growth firms] are critical to recovery," says Rob Atkinson, head of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington. "Their role in job creation is just so great."
The American fascination with entrepreneurs and inventors goes back at least to the days of Benjamin Franklin, the creator of bifocals and a wood stove. A confluence of forces contributed to the rise of a start-up culture. The young society blended egalitarian openness with acquisitive ambition. People had faith that they could achieve new things, but also a willingness to borrow ideas from an innovative Europe. The efforts fed on themselves as the nation developed a world-leading education system.