Support job creators
It's been tough, entrepreneurs tell me. How is everyone else traveling, is their next question? Who's doing well? Why are they doing well? Which industries are growing?
Tonight at the SmartCompany Awards, to be held at a cocktail party in Melbourne, we reveal the names of the companies whose revenue has grown the fastest in 2008-09.
We also give awards to the top innovator, the top exporter, the top franchise and the top website.
The criteria for our awards is tough. To make our list the companies must have grown their revenue for the past three years. How hard was that? The last two years have been the hardest in history.
But we reveal a group of entrepreneurs who saw the recession coming. Yes, some are in recession-proof businesses such as aged care. Some are in boom industries such as healthy takeaway food. But many of the entrepreneurs say they planned for tough times, buckled down, put plans on hold and survived. Now they are ready to expand.
So what does this mean for Australia? These companies are at the heart of job creation. Consider this. Just 38 of them created nearly 1,000 jobs last year.
So 380 of these fast growing SMEs can create 10,000 jobs in one year. And just 3,800 of them can create 100,000 jobs. That is extraordinary. What a contribution these companies make. What is more, these "gazelles" are training staff as they create innovative products and services which give consumers more choice and keep Australia's large duopolies on their toes.
But there are two concerning issues that have come to the forefront this year. First, is the lack of funding and support from banks. I have heard several harrowing stories of companies that have had the same bank from inception and when they needed the funding the most because of bad debts this year, the banks were not there. I can also feel the frustration from the Smart50 who now want to activate plans that have been put on hold for the past few years but are finding funding difficult to obtain.
The second is growing concerns that we are moving backwards on supporting this group. The new IR rules are looking at stripping flexibility away from agreements between workers and companies. Companies that expand across state borders are still hit by a myriad of taxes and red tape that should all be standardised (I mean how hard is it really to?). Programs like Commercial Ready that was successfully helping companies get to the next level have been dumped.
We are moving into a highly networked, high-tech world based on global networks. It is a world that craves and rewards new ideas. It is a world where a company can get mass reach and influence quickly and cheaply. This is a world made for entrepreneurship. And already foreign governments are launching policies, programs and tax concessions aimed at this sector.
Where is our Government and community focus on the fast growing SMEs? Why are they not a priority sector, given the enormous contribution they make to the creation of jobs, skills and innovative products and services? Where is the longitudinal research being done on this sector by the Australian Bureau of Statistics? How do we assist our banks to understand this group better? How do we improve their links into universities, highly skilled workers and money? Why are they not given the concessions of large businesses? Why are there almost no lobby groups to advocate on their behalf? And why are SMEs always lumped into the small business sector when many of Australia's small businesses don't grow, don't create jobs and don't innovate?
This is what makes the SmartCompany awards so special. Enjoy the Smart50 profiles and the analysis on this remarkable group. Check our site at 6:30pm to find out who has made the list.