Statistics, business leaders show small firms are big in South Florida
By Sherri C. Ranta
Most Miami-Dade County business professionals agree small business is the engine that drives the county economy and provides jobs for residents.
Dun & Bradstreet MarketPlace Analysis shows almost 50% of Miami-Dade County businesses employ fewer than five people, and almost 80% of all businesses here have 10 employees or less, according to fourth quarter 2001 figures. A closer look shows almost 99% of Miami's businesses are manned by workforces of fewer than 100.
"Other than Los Angeles, we have more small businesses than any other city in America," said Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President & CEO William O. Cullom. For that reason, the chamber has a number of programs designed to help small businesses grow.
Chamber Chairman Ramiro Ortiz called the city's army of small businesses the "real backbone" of the community. "This is particularly important after 9/11 when tourism was hurt but the small business community kept plugging along."
The figures aren't surprising for business professionals, said Lynn E. Hayes, product manager at Camilo Office Furniture Inc. and vice chairman of the chamber's small business group.
"We don't have two to three industries that dominate our economy. We don't have any one industry, like Boeing moving out of Seattle," he said. "On the other hand, we don't have a single major supplier of the economy."
Tourism, he said, is Miami's No. 1 drawing card. Small businesses need to continue to cater to that industry.
"That's our lifeline," Mr. Hayes said.
Small businesses provide innovation in the marketplace, said Manuel J. Portuondo, president of La Tropical Brewing Co. of Coral Gables and a trustee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. The firm holds the international trademarks for a formula of beer that was first brewed in Cuba in 1888.
La Tropical's niche market, he said, is the Hispanic clientele in the US, particularly South Florida and Cuban restaurants such as Bongos, where La Tropical is offered as a specialty beer in Miami and Orlando.
The Cuban beer category is an example, he said of innovation in the marketplace. The bigger breweries could have done what La Tropical did, Mr. Portuondo said, but they didn't.
"They left a door open for someone like me, with little resources, to do it."
Small businesses also provide community support, such as sponsoring sports teams, he said, and in return the sponsorships provide another way to advertise a business.
In the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, small business provides much of the support in the chamber's working groups and committees, said Basil M. Bernard, president of Apricot Office Supplies & Furniture Inc.
Mr. Bernard is a chamber trustee, vice chairman of the chamber's small business group and a member of the executive committee.
"A lot of good things come out of the associations," he said. "Doing good for the community, affecting change - that type of thing."