When I was growing up, Sundays usually proved the most hectic day of the week. My parents faithfully dragged all four kids out of bed and sternly motivated us to get dressed and eat breakfast before gathering the troops for church. And each Sunday morning, chaos ensued. Ditto as they rounded us up for the trip home.
Sure, our parents loved us and cared for us, but they sometimes took us for granted. Upon pulling into the driveway of our home after church one Sunday, our parents suddenly realized they had failed to notice a discrepancy in the routine roundup. My young brother Matt, it seems, never made it home.
It turns out he was left standing at the curb, dejected and alone. And forgotten.
Imagine a poor young kid whose parents have seemingly abandoned him in his impressionable adolescence and who, if only for as long as it took our parents to race back to the church, thought he had to face this world-or strange neighborhood, at least-on his own.
Now imagine a bunch of umbrella organizations created to help poor young kids, in general, find their way, but which simply drive past my brother on their way to a gathering where they will expound on the blight of these kids and the urgent need to help them. And there he stands.
Now replace that kid with many of this region's smaller companies, those which don't offer sexy new technologies, so-called spike-industry glitz, or year after year of 50 percent annual growth. Yet these quiet, unassuming companies still employ people, generate revenue, spend money and pay taxes. They are the entrepreneurial ventures-some with long, deep roots in Pittsburgh business-that make up a majority of southwestern Pennsylvania's economic foundation.
So why are they-I'll call them our Forgotten Majority-left standing alone at the curb while some of the most prominent and aggressive economic development efforts of today drive right on past on their way to spending millions of dollars to promote the region to the rest of the world?
Our contention at SBN - and the reason for this month's cover story - is that a large number of small companies have been left out of the equation as such organizations seek to shore up our region's economic future. Without question, their efforts are bound to give the region a boost.
But what about the Forgotten Majority, those who want to grow and prosper in the shadow of the region's more visible Sonys, Fore Systems, EchoStars and the like.
Granted, they make great stories when it comes to public-private partnerships, entrepreneurial gumption and building the region's status. But do such stories truly help the majority of less-sexy companies grow and prosper? In some ways, perhaps. However, I don't think such companies have even been asked what they want and need to thrive.
So that's what we set out to do this month. We took such questions to the street and asked them of a variety of small-business entrepreneurs. Their candor may surprise you. Some, of course, want easier access to capital, while others want more educational resources and networking opportunities. Some, who actively exercise their fierce entrepreneurial spirit, just want to be left alone. All, however, say they feel left out of the Big Plan. They feel forgotten.
My parents, fortunately, redeemed themselves by racing back to that curb to pick up Matt. My question to local economic development officials looking to make the region better is this: Will you do the same for the region's Forgotten Majority? I hope so.
How do you feel about it?
Now I'd like your feedback, whether you agree or strongly disagree. Tell me your thoughts about local economic development efforts and whether you think they're effective for the region. And while you're at it, tell me what you think you need from their efforts to help your company grow. We'll gladly publish your responses as they come. Fax your comments to me at (412) 321-6058, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, company and daytime phone number.