March 1, 2012 9:28:00 AM
There is often much talk about how the government can support entrepreneurs and small businesses. Whenever I walk downtown, and look into the windows of the boutique shops or eat at one of the locally owned restaurants, I often think about this question. A few of the establishments are doing well - Huck's is so popular on Friday night it's advisable to make a reservation - but others struggle. In a world where goods can be made cheaper and cheaper across the world and where mom and pops shops have to compete with Walmart and the emergence of Internet shopping, how do the small businesses and start-ups stand a chance?
Then, I recently started reading a biography about President Eisenhower and learned the country faced a similar dilemma in the 1950s. As trade liberalized after World War II, businesses in the United States faced increased global completion.
To help, President Eisenhower made big investments and spent a lot of taxpayer money building a world class interstate highway system. Millions of dollars were spent to make transportation between the states as easy as possible.
As a result of this investment, commerce between the states increased significantly. These highways allowed businesses to more easily sell their products to people and places hundreds of thousands of miles away. It also created the demand for cars that fueled the auto industry, an auto industry that helped create a middle class that could afford to send their children to college.
The government did not run this economic train, but it created the foundation to make the ride possible.
The government had to use taxpayer dollars to do this. As a taxpayer, I can say taxpayers don't like to pay taxes. It's our money. However, when President Eisenhower created these highways, enough of us realized the importance of it that the investment was made.
We realized that future generations couldn't compete in the 20th century without this investment. We realized that an interstate highway system would create the opportunities for Americans to do great things.
Improved access to broadband technology is one area where I think Americans can agree investments need to be made for the next generation and help those downtown businesses. Broadband technology provides Internet users with constant, unbroken connection to the Internet.
As more and more information is transmitted and stored online, this is becoming a necessary asset for businesses and workers to compete in a global economy.
Last time I checked, the United States was ranked 16th in broadband penetration, which means too often our broadband access is the more expensive and less reliable than our global competitors.
The country has to find a way to break the monopolies of the current DSL providers and empower local municipalities and communities, like Columbus, to bring high-speed Internet to their citizens, something that had to be done to achieve rural electrification as well. Without broadband, many businesses in rural communities will not have the skills necessary to create 21st century jobs.
Even more importantly, just as the Interstate highway system created opportunities for local entrepreneurs, access to high-speed Internet will empower a new generation of entrepreneurs. These folks will be able to make products to sell to people in other countries, not just in other states. Business will only be a click away. With this type of foundation, people's imagination will do the rest.
Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
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