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Opinion ‘Signs’ of the times

George HasaraDuring a recent drive to Black Mountain, I noticed a roadside sign that indicated that they were a “Certified Entrepreneurial Community (CEC).” This jogged my memory that I had seen the same sign in Franklin. The wheels (in my head) started spinning. How does a community get certified as anything? I understand the processes for certifying individuals or even businesses, but an entire community? This particular “certification” for business savviness, is provided by a non-profit company, in conjunction with local government. The quasi-governmental process of certification is not free of course. Non-profits may not make a “profit,” but they certainly are in the business of taking in money with a little help from their bureaucratic friends.

The idea of uber-certifications is intriguing. Not-for-profit status is the way to go, since otherwise, someone might get the idea that your “certifications” are being sold. The possibilities abound - just fill in the blank of “Certified _______ Community.” Happy, humorous, friendly, funky, etc. There would, of course, be an extensive vetting process with the appropriate paperwork to fill out and the ubiquitous references to “public/private cooperation.” Most of all, a cool, official looking sign would proudly be available for display.

My sarcasm in regards to CEC is not really about that program per se. It does have elements of merit. However, there are economic indicators, and governmental actions that make the proclamation of CEC a wee bit farcical. Earlier, this summer, a group of Franklin merchants were hoping to post a real entrepreneurial sign but had the idea nixed by the town government. A banner promoting an upcoming street festival was to hang between buildings on Main Street (as it had in the past) but it was deemed to be “unsafe.” Allegedly, unsafe in the sense of a distraction or possibly even falling. Perhaps, hardhats could have been issued during the promotional period or a distracting sign stating “now entering overhead banner zone” could have been erected to warn motorists of pending peril.

There is economic peril all around us and certainly, if not especially, the local level. One doesn't have to look very hard to see closed businesses or vacant commercial space. Earlier in the year, the State of North Carolina made sure there would be an additional 20 defunct local businesses when it legislatively swept sweepstakes away for the umpteenth time. Apparently, these establishments which lacked the high-class ambiance of a big name casino, or the officialness of a state educational lottery, weren't worthy as a gambling venue.

These are edgy economic times and the luxury of government involvement is progressively becoming more questionable. I don't expect government to completely get out of the way, but I hope at least for it to make greater efforts to show the way, especially for new entrepreneurs. Licensing and regulations are business bummers, but the process should be as easy and friendly as possibly. I've heard too many stories of entrepreneurs feeling like a tortured lab mouse in a bureaucratic maze.

The most realistic economic indicator signs are the ones that state “grand opening” or “going out of business.” Until the former, at least matches the latter in numbers, it will be hard to classify any area as an “entrepreneurial community.”


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