Archive for October, 2009


American small businesses are on life support

In the past few weeks I have made a number of trips to various places in these United States.  I believe some of the things I have seen and experienced have given me a much clearer picture of what is right and wrong with this country than what I previously had.

Last week I made a short journey from Jackson, Tennessee to Corinth, Mississippi.  For a time I was trying to keep track of the number of empty warehouses, small manufacturing facilities, auto dealerships and other business facilities; I quickly had to give up trying to keep track of them all.  I was in total awe at the number of “for sale” or “for lease” signs on various buildings of all sizes and condition.

The first thing that struck me was wondering where all the people who used to work at these places have gone.  Did they find new employment or are they unemployed?  Are they still receiving unemployment or have they given up?  Did they stay in the area or move on to “greener pastures”?  These were the questions running through my mind.

Locally, in the far western parts of the St. Louis, Missouri metropolis, I am amazed at the number of empty commercial facilities.  We used to have three car dealers here back in April and now we have one, and it is about to fail.  We used to have a transmission repair facility, a number of reputable auto mechanics and body shops.  The numbers have dwindled to where only the strongest have survived.

In quick succession over the past year, first the Sonic  ceased operation, then the Dairy Queen and finally the Hardees.  Granted, there are still three other fast food places in operation, but to lose one half of the total places to eat in a town (fast food) in such a short time is incredible.

What happens to the tax base in places where one business after another fails?  What happens to the image projected to outsiders when they look around at one empty building after another?  It certainly does not act as an impetus to move there and open a new business.  Just a couple of years ago two strip malls were constructed next to each other.  They all filled up with businesses very quickly.  Within two years one is completely empty and the other is less than half occupied.

Where have all the small businesses gone in this country?  Where have all the small machine shops, repair shops and specialty item retailers gone to?  We have an Outlet Mall in our town.  At one time all 50 places were leased and businesses were operating within them.  In the last two years the occupancy rate has dropped to less than 50% with more surely closing in January.

While the eyes of the media are squarely upon Fortune 500 companies and how their stock does on a given day, the eyes of most of us are on the local small businesses and their ability to stay afloat in these troubled times.  With so many of the new laws being discussed in Congress ready to make operating a small business nearly impossible; one has to wonder what the landscape will look like by this time next year.  I really do wonder how many family owned small businesses will be left standing by then.



Escape from the concrete jungle of wrong assumptions

A few weeks ago I flew from St. Louis to Chicago and then on to Minneapolis.  With each stop, the surroundings were the same; cement, asphalt, cars, homes, stores and warehouses, in other words–normal city “stuff”.  As unremarkable as this sounds, it was actually quite profound.

See, I did not fly back to St. Louis bur rather I drove a vehicle I had flown to pick up.  The difference between flying and driving was incredible to say the least.  Instead of only seeing cities and thinking of all the problems cities have, I saw mainly farmland as far as the eye could see.

Many years ago a famous “know it all” wrote a bestselling book claiming that the world’s population was going to explode to the point that by the year 2000, there would be no food to feed it.  Hmmm, I just made a trip where I did not so much as see one human (except in another car) for miles on end.  Hmmm, I just made a trip through the fertile farmland of Iowa (and other states too), where there were thousands of acres of corn and beans in the fields.

Right now I am looking out the window at my home at the most awesome looking bean field I have ever seen in my life.  These beans are such a rich shade of green and nearly 30 inches tall.  Yes, this is the same field that had been planted in corn, tilled and replanted in beans in June.  The point is, there is going to be an incredible harvest of beans shortly out of that field along with hundreds of others just in our county alone.

A person can sit in an ivory tower of learning, looking out on the cement world of a major city and invent a crisis.  This has been proven over and over again in different realms.  But, the only way to know if there really is a crisis is to climb out of that tower and get out of the concrete jungle to where the common people live.  It is out there, in the thousands of tiny villages, towns and communities that the “real world” lives and moves and has their being.

When I was stuck in Chicago for an unanticipated ground delay the other day, I was struck by the number of business people using their laptops and talking on cell phones the whole time.  They were oblivious to the situation and were thinking of only dollars and cents.  One day later I was eating at a diner in the middle of nowhere surrounded by truckers and farmers whose only concern was the weather and the food they were eating.

Life is as complicated, messed up and hopeless as we allow it to be.  Sometimes we get so caught up in what we are doing in life we forget what life is really all about.  Sometimes we become so engulfed in the affairs of this life that we lose sight of the Lord who gave us a life to live.  Sometimes we become so obsessed with the daily grind that we totally forget that without the Lord there is nothing in life but pride and problems.

Perhaps some of you need to take a nice long drive and get away from the pressures and warped perspective that comes from the stress of work/kids/etc.  Sometimes a quiet drive through fields of plenty or the woods or up a mountain or to the beach is all it takes to refresh, rejuvenate and realign our thinking with God and His way of doing things.