You want economic stability in your town? Think farms, small businesses


I don’t have answers for mega federal debt problems, or macroeconomic issues. I’m not an economist, nor a financial wizard. I don’t track unemployment statistics nor follow the stock market second by second. I am, however, fiercely bullish about the American economy. More specifically, U.S. agriculture and locally owned businesses

Clearly, local economic strength of U.S. towns is tied to state, national and international macroeconomic issues, but rather than waiting for a 500-job behemoth to waltz into your neck of the woods, why not attract and retain small, locally owned businesses, including farms?

I’ve been preaching the economic potential of agriculture for years. (And I’ve also been bemoaning the lack of agricultural research investment that could help us drive that potential. But let’s focus on the positive today, shall we?)

We can grow a local economy by growing our food and farm businesses.

Stephan Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics at Penn State, says local ownership matters in a lot of ways. “Smaller, locally owned businesses, it turns out, provide higher, long-term economic growth,” he’s quoted as saying in a recent Penn State news release.

Think about the big-box stores or large corporations. Many of them, Goetz says, have internal systems for accounting, legal departments, supplies or maintenance that might not even be in the same state. Small, locally owned businesses (farms, too), on the other hand, typically use other businesses in the community for those services. It’s that old “economic multiplier” effect at work.

“We can’t look outside of the community for our economic salvation,” says Goetz, who’s also director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. “The best strategy is to help people start new businesses and firms locally and help them grow and be successful.”

People like the Baker family we featured last week, a small dairy family who decided to expand by bottling their own milk rather than adding cows. In addition to selling at their farm, the Bakers got the milk placed in other locations like Greier Ag Center near Canfield, a move that is adding traffic to another locally owned business, too.

People like Bob and Marie Clapper, who farm, but also own Ag Nation in East Canton. The Clappers have a unique bale wrapper that is built to their specs in Holmes County.

People like Harold Neuenschwander, of Harold’s Equipment near Dundee, Ohio, who started a sideline on his Holmes County farm, and now serves farmers in Ohio and Pennsylvania with materials handling and feed equipment — and is one of the top Patz and Houle dealers in the country.

Holding on to the hope that jobs will magically reappear is a pipe dream. We should, instead, recognize the economic foundation, commitment and potential of the people who are in your community now.

It will take new ways of thinking to climb out of this current jobless hole. We should foster entrepreneurship, incentivize innovation, encourage education, and reward small businesses and the self-employed.


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