Economy needs Main Street

Two business professors who write a column for the Washington Post posed this refreshing (or heretical, depending on your view) theory last month: If we want to rebuild the improving yet tenuous economy, (and who doesn’t) stop looking at tech-startups as the be-all and end-all of moneymaking enterprises. Instead, they advise, take a fresh look at Main Street.

Columnists Matthew Kammer-Kerwick and Robert A. Peterson, speaking specifically about millennials, note they face lower incomes and higher unemployment than their parents did at their age. They say the younger workers, who want to contribute to the economy, are being overlooked, and aren’t being helped to reach their potential, unless it is a high-tech path. This, despite the fact that a majority of millennials (66 percent) told a pollster that they would like to start their own (non-tech companies.)

“When it comes to celebrating entrepreneurship, our society, led by Washington and Wall Street, has become fixated on the technology industry, funneling money and support primarily into tech start-ups. That myopic focus is misguided. In contrast, most aspiring entrepreneurs dream about starting Main Street companies — restaurants, barbershops, boutiques and other everyday retail and services,” Kammer-Kerwick and Peterson wrote.

Despite these aspirations, just 3.6 percent of households headed by young adults own stakes in private companies, the columnists write, compared with 10.6 percent in 1989, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. But with consumers spending more, and interest rates still low, it’s a good time for Main Street entrepreneurs, they conclude. (Which of course is true for not just millennials, but people of all ages who dream of starting their own company, such as baby boomers who aren’t ready to retire.)

Examples of Main Street-driven success that the columnists are talking about can be found in the Northwest. The whole food truck phenomena in Portland and Seattle, certainly mostly driven by young people, is now a full-fledged industry.

Locally, Herald Business Journal Editor Jim Davis recently profiled Sean and Leslie Spraggins, the folks behind BobaKhan, a popular toys-and-collectibles shop that just moved from downtown Everett to near the Everett Mall in order to expand in a bigger place with more visibility. Among other items, the store carries stuffed Minecraft characters and a wide range of bobblehead creations — which are produced by another successful Everett company — Funko.

In downtown Everett, brothers Craig Shriner and Curt Shriner bought the Everett Historic Theatre with the vision of returning it to its past glory as a venue for community theater, comedy nights, vaudeville, silent movies, film noir, fundraisers and concerts, not to mention the showing of the Super Bowl (when the Seattle Seahawks are in it.) Their success is wonderful and invaluable for the revitalizing of downtown Everett.

The would-be small businesses may not be as “sexy” as every tech start-up that comes along, but they’re more likely to provide a service someone is actually looking for, rather than creating the latest gadget/app one didn’t know one couldn’t live without.

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