Where were you when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City?
What were you doing when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon? Or when, after heroic passengers stopped the hijackers from reaching their intended target in Washington, D.C., United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania?
If you’re like most of us, 10 years later you can instantly recall where you were and what you were doing that September morning. To say that we were caught by surprise would be a gross understatement. The attacks on 9/11 shattered, finally and forever, our illusion that America was invincible.
Even as September 11, 2001 changed each of us individually, it also changed the face of small business owners and the way we operate in America.
Since 9/11, entrepreneurship in the U.S. has taken turns not even the most prophetic of entrepreneurs could have imagined.
Consider all that has happened: With the rubble of the Twin Towers not yet cleared, our country went to war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. We experienced a "slow down" in the economy and entered a great recession. We shuddered as Wall Street crumbled, the big three automakers went on the ropes, and tens of thousands of Americans lost their jobs and homes.
Yet, through it all, America's businessmen and businesswomen persevered. Now, 10 years post-9/11, they have demonstrated once again that small businesses are the backbone of American innovation, adaptation and survival.
Here are three ways American small businesses are re-shaping America.
1. Entrepreneurship sends out ripples of hope and opportunity
"More people than ever are breaking out of poverty and despair through entrepreneurship," writes Steve Strauss in USA Today. "Most important, I think, is that entrepreneurs are like pebbles thrown into a pond. They send out ripples of hope and opportunity, ripples of economic viability and creativity and even bigger ripples of possibility."
2. Small businesses create stability in local communities
Since 9/11, small businesses are discovering that getting involved at the local level creates stability within the community, and that's more important than ever.
Post-9/11, small businesses are thriving in communities where they've put down roots and made investments through donations of time. Being visible in neighborhoods and being actively involved with hiring from within the community has created much needed stability. Banding together is no longer an option—it's a necessity. That's what has built America in the past and what is helping to rebuild her now.
3. Local businesses figure out how to co-exist
Ten years after 9/11, small businesses are seen thriving in the shadow of big businesses. Take the home improvement industry. Before 9/11 the big box stores Home Depot and Lowe’s dominated the home improvement arena. In fact, many thought the rise of the big box stores would drive out the smaller, independent stores.
Yet, after 9/11, look who's struggled to stay afloat. It wasn't the little hardware store on the corner. It was Home Depot first and then, lately, Lowe’s.
That's because the small independent hardware stores figured out how to make service pay even if the customer has to pay a higher price. And now, instead of competing with each other, they are co-existing.
What has small business learned 10 years after 9/11? That being a small business owner doesn't mean you're small—it means you have the ways and the means to be flexible. That small businesses can more easily adapt to quickly changing environments than big box stores. And that, in the marketplace, it is the consumer who decides where he or she will shop.
Even now, 10 years after 9/11, looking for ways we can continue to innovate and adapt is the most any of us in America's entrepreneurial community can aspire to—while keeping in mind how lucky we are to have the freedom to own, operate and run our own businesses.