Did you know that 99% of all businesses in the United States are small businesses? Among them, about 26 million are considered micro businesses, firms with five or fewer employees. Between 2004 and 2010, these businesses created a net of more than 5 million jobs. During the same time period, large companies, firms with 500 or more employees, shed more than 1 million jobs. Micro businesses alone contribute over $1 trillion to the U.S. economy annually.

Put simply, small businesses are the backbone of America’s economy.

Not only that, small businesses help build better communities. The revenue that these businesses generate is funneled directly into the neighborhoods they serve. More than just a side endeavor, 74% of their owners report micro businesses to be their sole source of income. Small businesses often hire other small businesses as providers of goods and services. And small businesses tend to pay higher wages than their larger counterparts.

These business owners usually live and work in the communities they serve. This means that they pay taxes to their local government, which funds public services like schools and hospitals. And they are more likely to hire members of these same communities.

Every day, small businesses help close the income inequality gap.

According to Cheryl Salley, business development manager for Columbia, SC’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), small businesses “are crucial to our local communities…and economy. They stimulate job growth, leading to a better overall quality of life.”

Yet, in spite all that these businesses contribute to our local economies and the nation as a whole, they often have a difficult time obtaining the capital, exposure, and other resources they need to grow. Organizations like the SBDC are doing their part by creating access to funds, training and connections. But, we as consumers also have the power to help. As Mrs. Salley puts it, we need to “make a conscious effort to support our local businesses”.

So, this season, as you shop for your friends and loved ones, don’t forget about your local small businesses. They need and deserve our support.

How can you do it?

Start with who you know; your fabulous hair stylist, go-to mechanic, trusty handyman or independent pest control guy. Think about it, everybody eventually needs an oil change, a fresh hair-do, or repairs around the house. Ask these service providers if they offer gift cards or certificates for their business. If they do, purchase some as alternatives to the gifts you would have bought in a big-box store. If they don’t, why not suggest that they look into offering these kinds of client incentives? They would be marketing their business and guaranteeing a customer at the same time.

Or you could Google artists, artisans, clothing shops and designers, or other creative businesses in your local area. You could commission a unique painting, ornamental artwork, or clothing item.

Then, there’s always the old fashioned way. Simply walk into a local store and look around. You’re bound to find something worth purchasing. Goods produced locally are often of higher quality than mass produced items.

And Let us not forget local farmers markets, craft markets, art fairs and antique shops.

Really, the possibilities are endless. We can and should support our local businesses as often as possible. We just have to make the conscious effort to do so. But, isn’t making our communities stronger by supporting our local economy worth the effort?

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