If you’re like many entrepreneurs, your ultimate dream is to grow your small business into an enterprise large and successful enough to play on a global stage. That was the case even with FedEx, which had high hopes when it first began offering overnight deliveries in April 1973 with fewer than 400 employees.
Today, many small businesses are already global — or easily could be. Think about it: Today, your business is connected to international credit markets and infrastructure like the Internet and overnight shipping. You already possess the power to reach the entire world. And certainly the most recent recession has proved that no business, no matter how local its customer base, is isolated from the performance of the world’s interdependent economies.
A few years ago, FedEx began to talk about these connections as a major force shaping the very nature of life and business in the modern world — a force called “Access.” Access creates greater connections among people, businesses and nations, which in turn create new opportunities for everyone.
While it appears that the worst of the Great Recession is behind us, there’s little question the crisis exposed some structural flaws in the underpinnings of Access. For Access to continue spreading, the world now faces three big challenges:
1. Better policy
Last summer, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt issued a call for an “American renewal.” He told a receptive audience in Detroit: “This country ought to be, and we can be, not just the world’s leading market, but a leading exporter as well.”
In March, President Barack Obama unveiled plans to double America’s exports over the next five years and create 2 million new jobs in the process. He called for expanded credit for small and medium-size businesses, easing restrictions on selling certain goods abroad, and made exports a Cabinet-level priority.
But his administration is also threatening to start a trade war with China over its currency — a skirmish both sides have labeled as protectionism. “Protectionism is not the answer,” Immelt said in Detroit. “If other countries follow this trend — and many have started to react, including China — opportunities will vanish.”
2. Better energy
Access can’t expand indefinitely when it relies on a finite amount of fossil fuels. The technology to generate infinitely renewable energy from wind, waste and sunlight already exists, but no one country has brought it all together. We need American innovation, much of which comes from small and medium-size businesses; Chinese manufacturing muscle; and far-sighted European policies to work in unison — or at least in enlightened competition — to perfect, produce and spread the technologies needed to replace the volatility of fossil fuels with clean alternatives.
3. Better infrastructure
The human race has reached a tipping point: More than half of us now fit our own country’s definition of middle class, according to the World Bank. And more than half of us live in cities. The world’s urban population is projected to nearly double to 6 billion by 2050, adding the equivalent of a Philadelphia every week.
The doubling of the urban middle class presents an incredible new opportunity for businesses large and small, but connecting a world of rapidly expanding cities requires the right kind of infrastructure. China is spending $585 billion on stimulus infrastructure, including $132 billion for high-speed rail in just the past two years. By contrast, the $787 billion American stimulus package set aside only $8 billion for laying tracks.
So, which way will the world go? Will we choose a soft path of enlightened policy, renewable energy and strong infrastructure to sustain a rapidly growing population? Or will we follow the hard path again, this time scrambling to corner scarce resources and pursue nationalist agendas in a final binge before an even more spectacular crash? We have the technologies, policies, people and ideas to ensure that the benefits of Access continue to accrue indefinitely, provided we make smart choices today.
Greg Lindsay has been editor of Access Now, the annual FedEx magazine that explores the force of Access, since its beginning four years ago. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has also appeared in Fortune, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0, Time, Wired and Condé Nast Traveler. He is co-author, along with John D. Kasarda, of the forthcoming book Aerotropolis, which examines the intersection of global commerce, culture and urbanization.
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