Small businesses are the engine of our nation’s economy. But too often they get left behind by federal policies that reflect the priorities of large multinational companies and urban hubs. Last month, my staff hosted a series of roundtables with small business owners. What we heard in communities across the state — from Albuquerque to Silver City — confirmed both the enormous economic potential of small businesses and the need for policymakers to put more effort into helping them navigate the available resources that might actually address some of the challenges they face.
New Mexico’s small business ecosystem is tremendously diverse and employs over half of our state’s workforce. During our roundtables, we heard from small businesses in Indian Country and public lands champions in Albuquerque, restaurant owners and wood manufacturers in Las Vegas, health care providers and hotel managers in Carlsbad, and local economic development leaders and ceramic tile producers in Silver City. Across these communities, a few things stuck out.
First, keeping our best and brightest rooted in New Mexico remains a significant challenge for our communities, especially those in rural areas. Two-thirds of rural counties across the country lost population between 2010 and 2016. Such declines drain rural and small town communities of precious human capital, undercutting their ability to find the best employees and jump-start entrepreneurship.
We need to reverse this trend. That starts with recognizing that promising young talent needs strong local networking opportunities and mentors to develop their skills and harvest the know-how around them. Time and time again, we heard that mentors are vital for small businesses trying to get off the ground. Federal programs that connect entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals, like the Small Business Administration’s SCORE network, should continue to be backed by Congress. My CHANCE in Tech Act would also make it easier for workers to build new skills through apprenticeships that prepare our next generation of leaders.
Second, small businesses need better access to broadband. Too many rural families are marooned in digital deserts without access to online tools that can help them connect with small business resources and deliver products to faraway customers.