Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Food for Thought

Stop your bellyaching. Reduce restrictions on education, science and entrepreneurship and let high potential startups get big fast.

If you’re going to a Thanksgiving gathering of more than three or four people this week, chances are the dinner table conversation will eventually veer toward politics and the economy. Trust us on this. The football games. All your nieces and nephews are way above average in everything they do, and Aunt Mildred’s gall bladder operation will get tiresome after an hour or so.

While your relatives are moaning about their bloated tummies and underfed 401(k)s, try this for fun. Remind them that (a) we have a lot to be thankful for and (b) economists have predicted 27 of the last three recessions and the Great Economic Disruption we’re still struggling to emerge from wasn’t technically a recession--much less a depression.

Say what?

That’s right. It’s just been a period of extremely “slow growth” according to Forbes Publisher, Rich Karlgaard’s latest blog post

Now you might get a fork in the eye from a family member who’s recently lost a job, a home, been transferred far away or been forced into early retirement. But Kaarlgard argues we’ve been so accustomed to economic growth rates of four percent or more, that when it gets down to one or two percent, it actually feels like a contraction.

Since 2008 the U.S. economy has performed slightly better than flat. In 2008, 2009 and (projected) 2010, the U.S. GDP was (and is), $14.3 trillion, $14.2 trillion and $14.6 trillion.

Experts say the American economy has averaged 3.3 percent growth annually since World War II. But even small changes in GDP cause big swings in stock market values, investor animal spirits, and consumer sentiment, says Karlgaard. That’s why 4 percent growth feels like a boom, 2 percent growth feels like a recession, and flat feels like the 1930s. Karlgaard argues that America is in a “growth recession” which is anemic growth of less than three percent, but still growth statistically speaking.

The Kauffman Foundation, says the key to getting the economy booming again is directly correlated to startups that get big.
Kauffman’s Carl Schramm has said on several occasions that “the single most important contributor to a nation’s economic growth is the number of startups that grow to a billion dollars in revenue within 20 years.” Schramm says the U.S. economy, given its large size, needs to incubate 75 to 125 billion-dollar startups per year to feed the country’s post World War II rate of growth. Faster growth requires even more successful startups.

While the strength of the Forune 1000 certainly helps the overall economy, entrepreneurship has always been the key. But, even though small business is credited with creating the bulk of new jobs, Schramm says that’s not enough either.
He says we need an “X-factor” –a hundred or so companies, per year, that launch, find a market, execute, scale, learn, adjust and sail over the billion-dollar mark within two decades. They don’t have to be Googlesque. But they’ve got to be bigger than Mom, Pop and Uncle Joe.

If we’re going to get those 100 stars to the launching pad, Schramm says we better get serious about removing the tax and regulatory barriers for these kinds of startups with the potential to scale.

For example: how about any immigrant who graduates from a U.S. university should get a green card along with his/her diploma? So should any immigrant who starts a business that grows to more than 5 people on the payroll. Ambitious immigrants, disproportionately, create growth companies.

Chances are there’s a family elder around your Thanksgiving table that fits this description. They may not know an app from a nap, but they probably had super-size helpings of courage (and cajones) and didn't stop looking for new customers and serving their existing customers just because times got tough. We guarantee you’ll learn something.


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