As we approach a new era in Arizona business, I find myself reminiscing about the small business environment in the Valley 25 years ago, recalling the pioneering spirit of many courageous and determined entrepreneurs. In that era, the Five Cs were predominant revenue sources: cotton, copper, climate, citrus and cattle.
That is no longer the case in today’s marketplace. Technology, biosciences and health care are now dominant industries. Although today’s business climate is faster paced, it still preserves the attitude, perseverance and independence of the earlier years, and 97 percent of Arizona commerce is still fueled by small businesses.
In the Valley of 25 years ago, Motorola and Honeywell were key players in the corporate arena, and the “good old boys” network was alive and well. Though there were fewer participants and less competition, who you knew played an important role in opportunities. And, yes, business was done face to face. Often, a small business venture was cinched with a sincere handshake or a proposal outlined on a paper napkin over a cup of coffee.
And don’t forget the “good old girls.” Arizona has always been progressive with women’s involvement in business and political leadership. Arizona gave women the right to vote before the nation did. We have had four female governors in the past 25 years — no other state comes close.
’ve always called Phoenix “the biggest small town.” Even though it has grown to become the fifth largest metropolitan city in America, it still feels like a big small town to me. And, in many ways, Phoenix’ small business community connects much the same as it did in the small-town era, with networking, referrals, camaraderie and support.
The explosive change that arrived 25 years ago was technology. That’s when the microcomputer industry propelled us into a new era where cell phones, the World Wide Web and computer automation were about to be unleashed on our small businesses. I remember hauling around phone books and city maps in my car or stopping at a convenience store to use the pay phone to verify directions to a meeting — no MapQuest, no Google, no GPS. And today, if you want to know about social media, ask a 13-year-old.
Of course, 25 years ago there was less traffic and fewer freeways. For relaxation, I would head to Tempe, where I’d stroll along Mill Avenue and wander into Changing Hands Bookstore, and then head to Cookies From Home. With my new book and chocolate chip cookie,
I’d settle into a comfortable bench. Today, Mill Avenue is a much different business setting in the heart of Tempe. Also, light rail has rejuvenated many small businesses along its pathway through Phoenix.
In the past, the Valley’s small businesses have experienced many economic storms. Any downturn forces small businesses to reexamine expenses, processes and strategies, while requiring more efficiency, resourcefulness and creativity. Sometimes the hard decision must be made to retool, reinvent or even to start from scratch.
I think it is important for businesses that are doing well at this time to reach out to their suppliers and partners and “pay it forward” by doing business with those who may be struggling. Surviving these challenging times will fortify these businesses and poise them to recapture markets and revenues, and flourish in the upturn.
The sun shines on our business climate, with Arizona consistently in the running for one the top five states for small business. I believe small business will always be an integral part of the identity of Arizona; a place where we nurture creativity, value independence, respect stamina and expect tenacity.
Remember, the threads of small business weave a strong and vibrant tapestry, like the blanket you toss onto the back of a bronco. Sometimes it’s a wild ride and you need to hold on.