Did you hear? GE is coming to Boston, and the corporate giant is bringing about 800 jobs. That’s great news. But lost on many is that more than 600,000 small businesses in Massachusetts employ nearly 1.5 million people, meaning that approximately 44% of the jobs in our state are generated by small businesses.
In recognition of National Small Business Week, I spent a day traveling throughout the Norfolk and Plymouth district, thanking small business owners for their work and listening to their concerns.
The first stop was at Overhead Door Rockland, a thriving company tucked away down a driveway in a Rockland industrial park. Overhead Door does just what you would expect– it installs overhead doors throughout the greater Boston area. Their work ranges from installing, repairing and maintaining single garage doors for homeowners, to cities and towns, often at DPW garages, to large scale residential, commercial, non-profit, and industrial projects. The owners purchased the company about 12 years ago, and with dedication and hard work, survived the last recession. Today they employ installers, sales people and managers. They provide a full benefits package, including health insurance, life insurance, paid time off and a pension plan, and commit significant resources to employee training. And even though Overhead Door faces daily challenges, including fluctuations in gas prices, valuable time lost in traffic while commuting to job sites, and increasing health insurance costs, they continue to grow and are optimistic about the company’s future.
Next, we traveled to Richmond Hardware & Paint in South Braintree Square, a local shop in business since 1945. Richmond is a True Value store, selling tools, yard supplies and equipment, plumbing and electrical supplies, and just about anything else you could possibly need to maintain and improve your home. On this rainy Friday they were busy, but not as busy as they expected to be over the weekend when, with improving weather, lawnmowers and fertilizers promised to be big sellers. Their employees are friendly and helpful, and the small store has the charm and comfort often lacking in the big box home improvement stores.
For lunch, we made a quick stop at Cielo, a Mexican restaurant that opened about six months ago. Warm chips, a delicious quesadilla, and great service. After lunch, I introduced myself to the owner, who told me that the business was doing well. It’s family run, with family meaning six cousins running this restaurant and three others. This location has been home to a several food locations over the past decade or so, but Cielo is confident they are here to stay.
Braintree Cleaners, run by Braintree Town Councilor Chuck Kokoras, was our next stop. I’ve known Chuck the councilor for several years, but never knew much about Chuck: the small business owner. He started the business with his wife about 25 years ago. “It’s all about service and quality,” he said as he showed me the inner workings of the shop. He highlighted energy costs and growing regulations as small business areas of concern. We talked about advertising, the upgrading of equipment, and about the outsized support the shop gives to local causes.
The final stop of the day was at Grandasia Bridal, Prom & Fashion Emporium in Quincy, run by Phi Du, who left the financial services industry a few years ago to start her family. The dresses in the window and on the first floor of the shop clearly indicated it was prom season, and with each sale during our visit there was a real sense of excitement. I was amazed at the inventory, both its quality and quantity, pleased that it was from manufacturers based in the United States, and impressed by the enthusiasm and professionalism of the young staff. Downstairs were hundreds, if not thousands of wedding dresses. Full tailoring is also provided. As I was leaving the shop I was introduced to one of the junior seamstresses, a senior student at nearby Quincy High School who was just arriving after her day at school, who was excited to be working at the shop as she mulled her college decision between the Mass College of Art and the New York Fashion Institute. Phi is very optimistic about the future, and excited about the continuing redevelopment of Quincy Center. Quite simply, Grandasia is a very impressive business.
So, while our local small businesses are not grabbing headlines like GE, they are providing jobs, and while their employees may never get rich, if they are willing to be trained and work hard, they can make a decent living. What they earn is then pumped back into the local economy. The small businesses also offer quality products and services, and the spinoff effect of these businesses is enormous. They retain local accountants, attorneys and health benefits consultants, they buy supplies locally, they get their vehicles maintained and repaired at local garages, they eat at nearby sandwich shops, and they pay local real property and personal property taxes, and pay excise taxes as well. They belong to and draw on the resources of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. But what impressed me most is how much the owners and employees of these small businesses give back. They volunteer time, goods and services, they belong to and support local clubs and organizations, and make the growth and bettering of their communities and employees a cornerstone of their business models.
GE choosing Boston for its new national headquarters is notable, but it doesn’t match the excitement of the success of our local small businesses. They are the backbone of our local economies, and add so much to the fabric of our communities.