In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America:“It may be said that, in the United States, there is no limit to the inventiveness of man to discover the ways of increasing wealth and to satisfy the public’s needs.” He continued, “the primary reason for [America’s] rapid progress, their strength and greatness is their bold approach to industrial undertakings.” What impressed De Tocqueville most about business in America was “not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertaking as the innumerable multitude of small ones.”
Data from the Census Bureau (Business Dynamics Statistics) demonstrate that since 1977 American entrepreneurs in firms less than five years old have been responsible for literally all the net job creation in this country. For more than 30 years, new companies have led job creation in America. Recently, Carl J. Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation stated, “new and young companies and the entrepreneurs that create them are the engines of job creation and eventual recovery.” With 9.8 percent unemployment, if we want to create jobs in America we need to free up entrepreneurs and not burden them with increased taxes or regulation.
Especially encouraging during these hard times is evidence that past recessions have not prevented entrepreneurs from founding companies and creating jobs. Since 1977, America has averaged roughly 600,000 new firms formed each year. Through good times and bad, that number has remained fairly constant. Even more encouraging for today’s entrepreneurs is the fact that half of today’s Fortune 500 companies were founded in a recession or bear market.
In the 1970s, conventional wisdom said that America’s time as a vibrant, innovative economy had passed. We experienced Vietnam, Watergate, high interest rates, high unemployment, and double-digit inflation. We were told ours was a future of scarcity and sacrifice, and that what we really needed was increased government control and higher taxes (sound familiar?). President Carter presided over a period of general “malaise.”
Yet, in the midst of this “malaise,” a different future was being created. Entrepreneurs in the private sector were busy founding new companies and innovating. These entrepreneurs had the faith and guts to take action and pursue their dreams. Their innovations were a powerful force for leading America out of the malaise and into economic growth. Maybe you have heard of a few of the companies founded during this period when supposedly America’s best days had passed: Apple; FedEx; Microsoft; and Southwest Airlines. The efforts of these entrepreneurs have stood the test of time. All four of these companies were listed on Fortune’s 2009 List of the 10 Most Admired Companies in the world.
The efforts of today’s entrepreneurs hold the same promise for America’s future. They are not looking to the government to create jobs or waiting for others to do so. They are out there, by the hundreds of thousands, creating jobs for themselves and others. These Americans are generating the innovations that will refresh and renew our economy. A future “Google” is being created right now.
Following are just two of the reasons I believe this to be true.
First, entrepreneurship is not just for the young. This is an important fact for an aging America. A Kauffman Foundation report states that the average age of U.S.-born tech company founders is 39 years old. More than twice as many founders were older than fifty than were younger than twenty-five. Between 1996 and 2008, more people between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four started businesses than did people between the ages of twenty and thirty-four. These “seasoned” entrepreneurs bring considerable life experience and wisdom to the tasks of innovating and starting new businesses that create jobs.
Second, despite the sometimes politically charged discussions surrounding it today, history demonstrates that immigration has fostered entrepreneurship in America. If we can settle on a reasonable and enforceable immigration policy, it can continue to do so into the future. Many of the world’s best and brightest still want to come here and we should welcome them. Immigrants are much more likely to work as entrepreneurs, creating small businesses and associated jobs. In every census from 1880 to 1990, immigrants were more likely to be self-employed than natives. And they are starting a disproportionate number of high tech, science-driven companies. A recent study from Duke and UC Berkeley found that 52% of engineering and technology startup companies founded from 1995 to 2005 in Silicon Valley had one or more immigrants as a key founder. These new immigrants remind us of what is so great about this country, and why our ancestors came here.
Perhaps President Reagan best described how entrepreneurs can lead this country to a better day:
Entrepreneurs have always been leaders in America. They led the rebellion against excessive taxation and regulation. They and their offspring pushed back the frontier, transforming the wilderness into a land of plenty. Their knowledge and contributions have sustained us in wartime, [and] brought us out of recessions… Governments reduce deficits by controlling spending and stimulating new wealth, wealth from investments of brave people with hope for the future, trust in their fellow man, and faith in God.
Entrepreneurs will lead the way out. Bring on the entrepreneurs!