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Dec 8, 2016

A Social Enterprise Take on Benchmarking Central Ohio 2016

I view the recently released benchmarking report on Central Ohio as a call to action to make social enterprise the focus of local economic development in contrast with the conventional development approach of million-dollar concessions to large or hi-tech companies.

The report shows we are a generous community that is going to the same well over and over.  The share of families donating to charity remains flat at 50 percent and that group is stepping up as much as we can expect: the median gift grew 55 percent in the last three years.  There is also a core that volunteers but this has stalled at only 31 percent of adults.  Social enterprises’ creation of social impact will eventually go beyond the impact charitable and volunteer efforts can ever support.

The top fifth of households earns three times more than the bottom fifth at the same time that median income in our community is rising and ranks fourth among our peers.  This strongly suggests that the top earners are making the most gains.  The bottom fifth of earners are not driving this economic improvement.  Our local social enterprises are heavily focused on creating jobs for the bottom fifth of the population that is often challenging to employ, such as the chronically unemployed, homeless, formerly incarcerated, or victims of trafficking.

Our community beats its peers in the proportion of workers aged 25 to 34.  These millennials look for jobs with a collaborative work culture, bosses who are mentors, and companies they can be proud of for making the world a better place.  Social enterprises are the companies that will make millennials want to stay in Central Ohio because they encompass what a millennial wants from a job.

Our community ranks at the bottom in the proportion of businesses with fewer than 20 employees.  These very small companies are the true engine that will help the poorest fifth of the population.  I recently wrote that research done at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found that local businesses with fewer than 100 employees are better at growing income and employment than are larger local businesses. The study also showed “no clear effects of medium and large establishments [in reducing poverty].”  Most social enterprises in our community are very small and desperate for support to help them launch, grow, and create jobs.

The benchmarking report confirms that owning a business, being an entrepreneur, is not common.  The top 100 areas average only 9 percent of employees who own their own business.  This suggests that entrepreneurship remains an abstraction for the majority of working people.  And social entrepreneurs account for only 97 out of the 49,000 entrepreneurs in Central Ohio, not yet enough to capture the attention of decision-makers.

Given how directly social enterprise addresses these five issues identified in the Benchmarking report, our community needs to step up and take responsibility for making social enterprise a defining characteristic of our business community.

Where to start? Learn more about social enterprise in Central Ohio: reports, Facebook, twitter, and be a regular reader of our newsletters and blog.  Shopping this holiday?  Consider #shopsocialcbus.

Allen Proctor, President & CEO

Center for Social Enterprise Development