All businesses great and small
There are 32.5 million small businesses in the United States, employing more than 61 million people and making up a staggering 99.9% of the nation’s businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
As business journalists, though, we tend to focus almost exclusively on the larger businesses that reap bigger profits and make bigger news. With a combined $16.1 trillion in annual revenues, Fortune 500 companies alone make up 18% of the gross world product and two-thirds of U.S. gross domestic product, while employing nearly 30 million worldwide. It’s easy for corporations like Boeing Co. or Dominion Energy Inc. to soak up attention.
And the fact is, it’s also very difficult to know which small businesses will last and which have a story worth telling. Entrepreneurs face steep risks — about 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure rises to a dreary 45% in five years, and a daunting 65% hang up “out of business” signs within 10 years.
Faced with that kind of math, it’s understandable why business news outlets can be hesitant to cover startups and small businesses. Yet, with the contraction and closure of many daily and weekly newspapers, coverage of small, local businesses is shrinking, and that’s everyone’s loss.
That’s one of the reasons why we’ve launched a new page devoted to startups, where we’ll endeavor to cover a little of everything — from accelerators, venture capital and funding rounds to mom-and-pop shops.
And speaking of startups, in our cover story, freelance writer Greg Weatherford takes us on the speedy journeys some Virginia companies have traveled to become unicorns with billion-dollar-plus valuations — just six years(!) in the case of Herndon cybersecurity firm Expel Inc.
September also brings the third annual edition of the Virginia 500, polybagged with this issue. Five times the size of our annual monthly issues, this compendium of the commonwealth’s 500 most powerful executives is the length of a modest airport paperback. And if, like me, you’re the type of person who enjoys learning about movers and shakers and how they got to where they are, it can be just as compelling a read.
From an editorial standpoint, I don’t mind confiding that the 500 is a beast of a project. From research to writing to publication, it’s about six months of work, involving all five members of our editorial staff, nine freelance writers and two copy editors. And that’s not even including the photographers, art director and layout staff. I’d like to single out Virginia Business Associate Editor Courtney Mabeus and freelance writer Beth JoJack, whose stellar writing and reporting accounts for about 40% of the 500. Additionally, Deputy Editor Kate Andrews and Assistant Editor Katherine Schulte provided invaluable editing and fact-checking assistance, and Associate Editor Robyn Sidersky kept our daily news website humming along while the rest of us were deep in 500 Land.
As reporters and editors, we find the 500 is an incredibly valuable reference exercise for helping us keep up with the state’s top executives and businesses. And we know that many of you feel the same way, because the 500 is the most popular publication we’ve introduced in the magazine’s 36-year history.
That said, we don’t like to work in a vacuum. Our goal for the 500 is to present as accurate a picture of power in the commonwealth as we can, but it’s also somewhat subjective, no matter how much research we do to back it up. So, if after reading this year’s edition you feel we missed someone crucial or included someone you think shouldn’t have made the grade, feel free to reach out to me. I’m always glad to chat — and now that the 500 is done for another year, I’ll have a little more time.
For a while, anyway.