In Austin, Small Business is Big Business -everyday

On November 26th you can make a huge impact by shopping small on ‘Small Business Saturday’…one purchase, one purchase is all it takes. -From American Express’ ‘Small Business Saturday’ campaign

Americans, especially Austinites, have an affinity for entrepreneurs and the character small businesses bring to the community, which is why it is no surprise that one of the largest credit card companies in the world is behind “Small Business Saturday“. This Saturday will be the 2nd annual and it comes at a low point in Americans’ confidence in our financial system and in the midst of the Occupy Wall St. movement that was in great part inspired by that same lack of confidence. Despite the progressive nature of Austin the Occupy movement hasn’t been particularly headline worthy or boisterous. One reason for this is Austin has weathered the recession better than most major US cities despite its large gap in wealth disparity. But why? In the words of current Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, “small business is big business in Austin”. I think its safe to attribute Austin’s economic success to its commitment to community and pre-Occupy movements like the famed Keep Austin Weird that surfaced as a response to perceptions of over-commercialization and chain-ifacation of the city.  They had clearly tapped into something, a 2003 study published in the Austin Chronicle on the effects of a new Border’s bookstore next to locals Book People and Waterloo Records found, “each dollar spent at the local stores would generate three times as much Austin economic activity as would a dollar spent at Borders”. That Borders was never built. The bottom line is Austin is a place people want to live, spend their money and as a result businesses in touch with this community know the importance of reinvesting back into the city. In other words the citizens, aka taxpayers and consumers demand that money be reinvested here.

The Occupy movement on the other hand hasn’t made a lot of specific demands but it has been asking citizens to fire their banks and hire a local Credit Union. I guess there aren’t many local credit card companies, but I wonder if anyone on the American Express marketing team realized the irony in possibly tapping into some of this same sentiment? It recalls the Capital One commercials that feature Alec Baldwin after he personally expressed opposition to bank bailouts in his Op-Ed on the Occupy Wall Street movement. (Capital One Financial Group received 4 billion in bailout funds)

I have been saying for a while now that the only way we can kick the dust off our economy is by exercising some demand-side economics. Whatever discretionary spending we have left we must use it to strengthen our local economies and invest in those who are invested in us- small businesses that are tied to the community.  For decades we have supported major brands that were once local and American but now after years of stagnating wages, record corporate profits and outsourcing jobs we must recognize our role in this process that has done lasting damage to our economy’s ability to sustain growth. We can point to the top at those who are still profiting from the current system or we can start to change it, one purchase at a time. In general, encouraging communities to support and invest in themselves is what the “Small Business Saturday” campaign is about, with one crucial flaw- its only one day. But, is it a coincidence that American Express filmed the commercial for Small Business Saturday in Austin, TX? I think not.


Occupy Wallstreet (Anywhere)

Today is #OccupyAustin and as I talk to local politicos about the burgeoning new “occupy[insertyourtown]” movement we speculate on how long it will be before some highly funded, issue specific group comes in and marginalizes it like the TEA Party. Within the Occupy Austin movement there is a clear structure being created with a General Assembly that meets daily and specific committees who democratically discuss issues and make plans. They have a website and are highly motivated and engaged. Their facebook page already has over 7,000 fans and today’s event has over 4,000 RSVPs. It will be interesting to see who is behind such a speedy effort to first occupy the URL then to create such a content heavy web presence.

The in-cohesive nature and lack of pure ideology are part of what gives these movements credibility. You can not cut the head from a headless snake, but groups like Move On are trying to shape themselves into just that. As we have seen so far celebrities and unions have “joined the fight” though no specific agenda has been outlined. Isn’t the point here though, that people are just tired of failed leadership at the hands of greed? Do they really need an agenda or specific reforms to push? Like a friend said,  “What matters is these people are getting off their asses.” At the end of the day public policy is no overnight read and is generally left for politicians, activists (which anyone with spare time can be) and business ‘leaders’ to work out. Average working class people, if they in fact have work, do not have time to become political scientists.

After a historic election of “hope and change” how did we get to a point where we have two separate organic movements against our nations establishment?  Ladies and gentlemen this is nothing new. It happened at the end of the Roman Empire as well. The young educated class who could not find work lost respect for “Roman virtue” when they saw it was really just a farce to keep the common order of things as they were. There was no real meritocracy. All any of these people want is a job where they do not feel like they are getting the screws. I see pundits refer to them as communist, socialists and anti-capitalist as if they just hate rich people. Sure those types are drawn to large gathers and protests in general. However, I suspect that these folks wouldn’t mind bonuses for bank executives if they weren’t just laid off by a bank, or if wasn’t funded by taxpayer bailout money. This is what people are tired of. Watching people who made bad decisions redistribute the nations wealth amongst themselves.

Simple question: Would our economy be in this shape if these financial executives were doing a “good job” or at least one worth 10 million a year?

Bush said it:

Some workers are being left behind in the booming economy and the disparity between the rich and the poor is growing…The fact is that income inequality is real. It has been rising for more than 25 years…The earnings gap is now twice as wide as it was in 1980. Bush said, adding that more education and training can lift peoples’ salaries.

Reagan said it:

Now try it yourself…

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