Brunell: Entrepreneurs remain key in America’s success

American entrepreneurs’ ability to invent, create and bring products and services to market makes our nation great. Their success generates the tax revenue which fund our schools and puts people to work.

Many “big businesses” started in the imaginations of immigrants who came to our country — a place of boundless possibilities. America is a land where your station in life doesn’t matter and where hard work, innovation and perseverance are the keys to success.

The story of M&Ms is a good example. Today, the Mars Company is a global giant marketing its candy and products in 100 nations.

But it didn’t start that way.

Mars was founded in 1911 in Tacoma where Frank C. Mars made his first candies in his kitchen. The company was in business for 30 years before its star took off. World War II soldiers started carrying candy-coated chocolate pieces that didn’t melt in their packs. The candy was called M&Ms and the company’s most famous slogan boasted, “It melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” Today, Mars produces 2 billion M&Ms an hour.

Like all successful businesses, their leaders take calculated risks, constantly innovate, add diverse product lines, and hire and retain top-notch workers. They survive on dedication, new ideas and a strong work ethic. Simply, they believe in what they are doing.

While some elected officials want government to exert more control over business and dictate which products and services are marketed, the bureaucracy is not known for creativity, innovation or risk taking. In fact, those traits are often discouraged by government agencies in favor of command and control rule-making.

Just look at what happened in the former Soviet Union with central government planning or what is currently going on in Venezuela. Store shelves are empty and people go without.

We often forget our successes came about because someone had a better idea and worked long hours perfecting it. They didn’t work eight-hour shifts and there was no overtime pay.

Creative people like Pullman’s Ed Schweitzer invented products in garages in evenings and on weekends. Schweitzer developed a digital device to redirect electricity when high-voltage transmission systems fail. Since 1982, Schweitzer Engineering Labs’ (SEL) cutting-edge products are known worldwide.

SEL is employee-owned, remains headquartered in Pullman and has more than 4,600 employees in 24 countries.

Twenty years ago, who would have imagined Boeing would be manufacturing jetliners made of carbon fibers rather than aluminum? But Boeing just delivered its 500th carbon-fiber passenger jet from its assembly lines in Everett and Charleston, S.C.

Boeing leaders bet the company’s future on the 787 “Dreamliner” — a risk those in government would not likely take.

Family-owned businesses remain America’s economic backbone. According to the University of Vermont, there are 5.5 million family-owned businesses in our country that contribute $8.3 trillion to our economy, employ 63 percent of the people in our workforce and are responsible for 78 percent of all new jobs.

Many are people like successful Olympia fishing guide Rob Nowowiejski who often leaves home before sun up and returns after sunset. If they don’t operate by the rules and provide good service, they are out of business.

In the best of times, businesses are subject to the whims of consumers, competition and volatile economic cycles. Too often those pressures are lost on people in government or elected to public office who think businesses can simply pass along higher taxes and regulatory costs to their customers and still survive.

Elected officials and the government bureaucracy should take care not to smother the innovation, creativity and opportunities that made America great.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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