August 29, 2022
There are 32.5 million small businesses in the United States, employing more than 61 million people and representing an astonishing 99.9% of the nation’s businesses, according to the US Small Business Administration.
As business journalists, however, we tend to focus almost exclusively on the bigger businesses that reap bigger profits and make bigger news. With a combined $16.1 trillion in annual revenue, Fortune 500 companies alone account for 18% of gross world product and two-thirds of US gross domestic product, while employing nearly 30 million worldwide. For corporations like Boeing Co. or Dominion Energy Inc. it’s easy to get distracted.
And the fact is, it’s also very hard to know which small businesses will last and which ones have a story worth telling. Entrepreneurs face big risks — about 20 percent of small businesses fail in the first year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure rises to a dismal 45% within five years, and a disheartening 65% hang up “not working” signs within 10 years.
Faced with this kind of math, it’s understandable why business news outlets might be hesitant to cover startups and small businesses. Yet, with many dailies and weekly newspapers downsizing and closing, coverage of small, local businesses is shrinking, and that’s everyone’s loss.
That’s one of the reasons we’ve launched a new page dedicated to startups, where we’ll try to cover a little bit 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 fast trips some Virginia companies have traveled to become billion-dollar-plus unicorns—just six years (!) in the case of cybersecurity firm Herndon Expel Inc.
September also brings the third annual edition of the Virginia 500, which features this issue. Five times the size of our annual monthly issues, this compendium of the Commonwealth’s 500 most influential leaders is the size of a modest airport paperback. And if, like me, you’re the type of person who likes to learn about the movers and shakers and how they got to where they are, this can be an equally fascinating read.
From an editorial standpoint, I don’t mind trusting that the 500 is a beast of a project. From research to writing to publication, that’s about six months of work involving all five members of our editorial team, nine freelance writers and two editors. And that’s not even including the photographers, art director, and layout staff. I’d like to recognize Virginia Business Contributor editor Courtney Mabeus and freelance writer Beth Jojak, whose superb writing and reporting account for about 40% of the 500. Additionally, Deputy Editor Kate Andrews and Assistant Editor Kathryn Schulte provided invaluable editing and fact-checking assistance, and Associate Editor Robin Siderski kept our daily news website going while the rest of us were deep in 500 Land.
As reporters and editors, we find the 500 an incredibly valuable reference exercise that helps us keep up with the country’s top executives and businesses. And we know many of you feel the same way, because the 500 is the most popular publication we’ve run in the magazine’s 36-year history.
However, we don’t like to work in a vacuum. Our goal for the 500 is to present as accurate a picture of community power as possible, 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 think we’ve missed someone important, or included someone you feel shouldn’t have made the grade, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m always happy to chat — and now that the 500 is done for another year, I’ll have a little more time.
For a while anyway.