Promising to be champion of small business

Entrepreneurship is best social program we have

MASSACHUSETTS IS at an inflection point.  Decisions we make as we emerge from quarantine will define the character of the Commonwealth for decades.  Small businesses should be at the center of our recovery plans.  That is why I am exploring a run for lieutenant governor—to be the small business champion on Beacon Hill.

Running a small business is a challenge even in the best of times—and I know because I owned ECHO Industries, a manufacturing business located in Orange, for over 20 years. I believed in ECHO, I believed in our employees, and I believed that we were making a positive contribution to Orange and to the Commonwealth.

I sold ECHO in 2019 and now teach at Babson College where I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and wisdom with the next generation of entrepreneurs.  I believe entrepreneurship is the best social program we have—by encouraging entrepreneurs to start businesses and to innovate, we are strengthening not only our economy, but the very fabric of our society.

In Massachusetts, small businesses make up 99 percent of all the businesses and employ nearly half the workforce.  There is great sector diversity as well—from electricians and plumbers, to local restaurants, to manufacturing companies, to tech start-ups, and many more.  These businesses not only drive our economy, they bring character to our towns and neighborhoods.  In essence, small businesses are a big part of what makes Massachusetts what it is.  Nothing is more valuable for a community to have, nor more difficult to achieve than a thriving local small business base.

The global pandemic presented challenges no business owner ever anticipated.  By some estimates over half of the small businesses in Massachusetts lost 25 percent of their income from COVID-19, leading many to close their doors permanently.  Others are just hanging on.  As we emerge from a year in quarantine, it’s time we start to think about the overall health of our small businesses and what we can do as a Commonwealth to ensure their long-term viability.

First, it’s time for a top to bottom review of state small business programs to determine what is effective, what is not working, and what more we can offer.   And it’s important to look at how these programs impact the different sectors of our small business economy because what works for a small manufacturing outfit like ECHO will not necessarily work for a life sciences company, a seasonal business, or a local retailer.  We must establish a systemic process for listening to and learning about the needs of small businesses across the Commonwealth.

Let’s also ensure that there is access to capital and provide support for gaining first contracts and hiring skilled workers.  And we can and must do better to encourage diversity among small business owners.

According to the US Small Business Administration, 9 percent of the population in Massachusetts is Black but own less than 5 percent of our small businesses. Latinos are over 12 percent of the population but own less than 6 percent of our small businesses.  And women—more than half the population—own under a third of all small businesses.

We must do better.  Let’s start by encourage entrepreneurship at a young age.  But we also must break down structural barriers to success by working to open up access to capital and double down on our commitment to awarding minority owned businesses government contracts.

When we do all of this, we empower communities by sharing the prosperity of our economy with everyone.  Small business owners are creating jobs locally, sourcing materials from other local businesses, and reinvesting in the neighborhoods and communities where they operate.

Meet the Author

Bret Bero

Lecturer/Considering political run, Babson College/Possible lieutenant governor candidate
And as we consider broader public policy changes, we must consider the impact on small businesses.  From issues as complex as climate change, to education and workforce development, to infrastructure, to affordable housing and daycare, small business should have a seat at the table.

I’m an economic optimist. Small business and entrepreneurship are my passion.  I know small business is important to other Bay Staters as well, as seen through the pride we all have in our neighborhoods or town’s establishments.  Let’s do better by our small businesses while encouraging entrepreneurs to put their ideas in motion.  As lieutenant governor, I will be their champion.

Bret Bero is exploring running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.