When the decision came to write a business column, I tried not to over think it.I've written about business for a couple of years now but I wanted to make sure this column would be both useful and focused on local needs in the Berks, Upper Bucks, northwestern Montgomery and Saucon Valley regions. I've always believed and advocated strongly for small business and the importance of the entrepreneur in my writing believing that they remain the heart and soul of the American economy.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, the federal agency chiefly responsible for monitoring and giving a helping hand to small business, agrees. In its Small Business Profiles for the States and Territories for 2007, the administration's Office of Advocacy reported that nationwide small businesses made up an estimated 99.7 percent of employer firms in 2006 and contributed about 50.9 percent of all non-farm U.S. private labor force jobs in 2004.

The report also found those same small businesses had figured prominently in U.S. job growth creating approximately 1.9 million net new jobs between 2003 and 2004.

Moving to Pennsylvania, figures from the 2007 report are equally impressive. Over the same period, small businesses accounted for 98.4 percent of employer firms in the Keystone state and provided 50.3 percent of private non-farm jobs creating 77,800 net new jobs between 2003 and 2004. Though corporate behemoths and billion dollar deals continue to grab headlines, these small entrepreneurial businesses are the true movers and shakers of both national and local economies creating key innovations and expanding new markets.

Nineteenth century French economist Jean Baptiste Say was the first to truly focus on the entrepreneur as a key player, but today in Berks, northwestern Montgomery, upper Bucks and southern Lehigh and Northampton Counties numerous community organizations now exist to foster entrepreneurial efforts.

It's probably no coincidence that the region's comparatively positive economic health when compared to other regions of Pennsylvania is in part due to the sheer number and variety of organizations and associations promoting small business and entrepreneurship. A short list of these organizations (forgive me if I miss somebody) includes:

€¢ the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry

€¢ the Northern Berks Chamber of Business & Industry

€¢ the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce

€¢ the Berks-Mont Business Association

€¢ the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce (serving southern Berks, Western Montgomery and Northern Chester Counties)

€¢ Pottstown SCORE (serving the Tri-County area)

€¢ the Oley Valley Business Association

€¢ Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce

€¢ Southern Lehigh Business Organization and

€¢ the Hellertown-Lower Saucon Council of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

I've heard every argument there is for streamlining and consolidating regional business associations and chambers and I maintain that most such ideas are just wrongheaded. Entrepreneurs will go their own way. They'll choose the organizations that work well for them or in some instances no organization at all and, as is the case with most things in life, the more choices available to them the better.

I hope you'll invite me to visit your local chamber or business organization in the coming weeks and months either to speak to your group or just to hear what you have to say.

Please feel free to send me your business news big or small either for inclusion in this column or on our new business page by e-mailing me at shessinger@berksmontnews.com or calling (610)367-6041 ext. 223.

Shawn Hessinger is the Managing Editor of the Berks-Mont Newspapers and edits local business news.

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