Small, Local Businesses Speed Income Growth

[imgbelt img=redlodge.jpg]Researchers at Penn State University have found that smaller, locally-owned businesses are better for growing incomes in a county than the presence of larger companies or big box stores owned outside the county.


The presence of larger firms owned by those outside the county had the opposite impact. Those counties had slower growth in incomes. Goetz and Fleming found that this impact extended to big box retail stores, such as Walmart and Home Depot.

“Although these types of (larger, non-local) firms may offer opportunities for jobs, as well as job growth over time, they do so at the cost of reduced local economic growth, as measured by income,” Goetz and Fleming wrote. “Small-sized firms owned by residents are optimal if the policy objective is to maximize income growth rates.” 

One of the reasons locally owned firms are better for county economies than big box stores and larger, out-of-town corporations is that these larger firms outsource many services that the smaller companies buy within the community, Goetz explained. They use local accountants and wholesalers while big firms do this work themselves.

Small businesses and local start-ups not only buy locally, but they tend to spur innovation and productivity within the county.

“This is really a story about start-ups,” said Goetz. “Many communities try to bring in outside firms and large factories, but the lesson is that while there may be short-term employment gains with recruiting larger businesses, they don’t trigger long-term economic growth like start-ups do.”

Goetz said his findings might provide a better strategy for local economic development officials. Encouraging local businesses would be better for growth than recruiting larger firms from outside the county.

“We can’t look outside of the community for our economic salvation.” Goetz said. “The best strategy is to help people start new businesses and firms locally and help them grow and be successful.”

Goetz is the director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. The Goetz and Fleming research appears in the Economic Development Quarterly.