Does Equality Equal a Good Economy?

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and Author of The Green Lane;” Published on 5/1/15, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: I interview 24 individuals from the LGBT Community and report on my findings about their perspective on their consumer buying power, contribution to the work force, and belief system in free enterprise. I also speak with businesses that serve the LGBT community which have benefitted as a result.

Even though Wall Street has enjoyed record gains, we can agree that Wall Street is not a reflection of the pain in which small businesses experience each day to keep their doors open. Some small businesses are doing very well, despite the slow economy, due to their choice to serve a niche space of clientele. These are the thriving businesses which serve the LGBT Community (Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender Community) as these consumers exercise their spending power. Some businesses refuse to serve individuals from this community citing that it will compromise their religious beliefs. But are they missing out on a potential consumer who has disposal income to spend on goods and services?

Before I provide an answer to whether a business is missing out, I had to research the financial capabilities of consumers from the LGBT community. The study consisted of interviewing 24 individuals; six individuals who declared they were lesbian; six individuals who declared they gay; six individuals who claimed they were bi-sexual; and six individuals who were transgendered. I asked them a series of questions; in the specific areas of education, occupation, personal income, spending habits Purpose of this study was to get collect data on how individuals part of the LGBT community, earned and spent their money. This data could be utilized by a number of groups, including a business who might have not considered marketing to the LGBT demographic.

This study had nothing to do with my personal beliefs; religious, political, and/or social. This study was to purely seek answers to the question, “Does Equality Equal a Good Economy.” I am not taking any position on this matter. I am not endorsing or approving any one specific lifestyle. This is simply an objective look into the economic opportunity for small businesses, while providing an inside look to the economic buying power of the individuals.

First I asked each individual of what level of education did they complete. Of the 24 individuals surveyed, 19 answered that they attended and completed some level of college education: three individuals had completed 2 years of college; nine individuals had graduated college with a four year degree; five individuals had master’s degrees; and the other two individuals had PhDs. As for the other five individuals who did not attend college, three of them were enlisted in the military, and received training in specific fields within the trades, while the other two individuals only completed high school.

Then I inquired whether each individual considered themselves a member of the trades (carpenter, mechanic, laborer, etc.) or if they saw themselves as a professional (teacher, lawyer, doctor, sales, tech developer, etc.). An overwhelming majority of the individuals responded that they were of the professionals’ category. Only two individuals saw themselves a member of the trades. This would be in line with the statistical fact that the majority of these individuals had a college degree or better. Professions that continued to repeat as respondents shared how they made their livelihood were in the fields of marketing, medicine, fashion, sales, and business services. Only one individual was an entrepreneur, owning a local business; while only one individual worked for government.

Next I began to gather data on personal incomes. Again the answers would collate in relation to education and occupation, and incomes were statistically matching usual industry prevailing wages for the occupations disclosed. Of the 24 individuals interviewed, eighteen of them had a personal income over $100k a year or better; of which two individuals had an income greater than $250k a year. While three individuals had earned $50k to $75k a year; another individual earned $75k to $100k a year; another individual earned from $25k to $50k a year. Only one individual was below the poverty line. All but one of the individuals was currently employed. The one individual currently unemployed was seeking employment.

I explored spending habits on necessities such as housing, food, health care, and other essential goods/services. Each individual would provide a brief on how much of their income did they commit to these essential products/services. The numbers were not that much different than individuals whom had the same income and consumer buying power of their counterparts not members of the LGBT community; however individuals surveyed disclosed that they did spend 60% to 80% of their income on essential needs, focusing most of their spending on their living space; leaving 20% to 40% of their income available for discretionary spending on non-essential items, things like additional consumer goods, luxury items, vacations, and entertainment.

When asked how these individuals spent their available cash, beyond regular living expenses, responses varied widely. Improving their lifestyle or supporting life style choices were at the top of the list, followed by consumer goods and vacations. Most of the participants preferred to save their money, and have very little if no debt; with most having their home and car paid for in full.

Finally I surveyed each individual if they have ever been discriminated against and refused service by a business because of their lifestyle. Every individual surveyed shared an experience in which they were discriminated against, taunted, or made to feel embarrassed either by former employer, and/or by a business that refused service to them. Some individuals have also expressed they were discriminated against when seeking medical attention or services. Due to the high rate of discrimination claimed by the surveyed parties, over 90% said they make their consumer purchases on-line.

A number of businesses who cater to the LBGT community provided me with some insight.

David Borrows, proprietor of Glamour Boutique.com, shared his perspective, “The LGBT community in our opinion reward businesses with their patronage when they are accepted and respected as equal to all other consumers – that often means repeat and ongoing business when you get it right. Ask any Ad agency or publishing company that focuses on the LGBT community and they will tell you that group of consumers are above average. When it comes to education, qualifications, earnings etc. i.e., they have more spending power than the average person/household.”

“I think that any business that discriminates against any person because of gender identity or sexual orientation is foolish. All individuals should be treated equally and fairly,” added, Ms. Lady Ellen, founder of Le Femme Finishing School, “When I do hear of a business that is unfriendly toward the LGBT community, I make it known on every possible social media and tell people to stay away because they do not deserve their hard earned money.”

Richard Spezzano, of the Rainbow Mountain Resort, as president and owner he has catered to the LGBT community for the last 30 years. “It is a disgrace to see businesses discriminate against people based on their lifestyle. No one should have to deal with decriminalization of any kind. We would never tell a heterosexual that they cannot come into our club or restaurant. They should not be able to tell someone that I cannot come to their establishment.”

But some businesses refuse to provide services citing that by doing so it infringes on their first amendment right of freedom of speech and it violates their religious beliefs. One of these said cases is recently was featured in the media, where a bakery in Oregon and Colorado both refused to provide services to a gay couple who was preparing for a marriage ceremony. In both cases, the store owners refused to make a wedding cake citing that it conflicted with the store owner’s personal religious beliefs. Each store was fined. Since then, the bakery in Oregon has closed its doors.

Participants surveyed expressed they would shop in public and/or buy locally more often, and preferred to see their dollar benefiting local businesses if those businesses were more welcoming and did not discriminate against them. So does equality equal a good economy? I would say it depends on which side of the financial transaction you choose to be on.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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Why Main Street Matters

Why-Main-Street-Matters

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on SamBurlum.com 

For generations, small family-owned businesses on Main Street were the lifeblood of local economies in most corners of America. They provided local jobs, accounted for majority of the ratable tax base, and were usually the first entities to contribute financial resources to causes within the community. In recent decades, we have seen the disappearance of healthy Main Streets across our nation. Gone by the wayside have been the family-owned enterprises, where someday, a son or daughter would take over the store, continuing the family tradition as the go-to local merchant. In their place, we have watched the explosion of the big box retailer, run by corporate executive teams who have no connection to the community. These corporations usually redistribute their gathered wealth via Wall Street, leaving Main Street to fend for itself.

Main Street matters more than ever before. There are still some holdouts in small towns across America, where small businesses are keeping the American dream alive, and they need your support. These are the businesses which survived the crushing blows of big box store competition and/or they are specialty businesses that serve the residents of bedroom communities, which cannot be replaced due to the unique services they provide. So here is why you need to support Main Street, why it matters…

The small business located on Main Street might be owned and operated by a member of your family, a friend, neighbor, or someone who resides within the community. Chances are that the small business owned by a local resident relies on other local residents to patronize their establishment. There is the old saying that charity begins at home. Charity does not mean a hand out, however in this case it does mean making those small sacrifices that make all the difference in someone else’s life. Yes, you might pay a few extra bucks for that pair of jeans or for that appliance, but you are contributing and investing into the success of someone you might know locally, who in turn understands the value of being a positive influence in the community in which they do business.

Small businesses provide an income to municipalities. Each local store front or small manufacturing facility pays taxes, a lot of taxes, without drawing on the essential services provided to homeowners. Since business properties are zoned commercial or income-producing, they are assessed at a much higher rate than homes. With more ratable properties contributing to school taxes, school districts have more resources to provide a better education for the residents’ children. When there is a successful Main Street, usually demand to be a resident of that community is higher, thus driving up property values. Businesses must pay for their own garbage removal; they do not require additional law enforcement nor fire to support their existence. Local municipalities look to offset home property-tax-revenue with ratable property-tax-revenue. This creates a balance so that essential services can be provided to the community without over-taxing every homeowner.

A thriving Main Street denotes a thriving community. An empty shelf never sells anything, and that can be applied to storefronts and property values. If you have ever driven through a small town which had multiple thriving businesses, chances are you were more tempted to stop, take a look around and spend a few bucks. Success breeds success, and people usually want to live and work in an environment where examples of true professionalism and caring can be experienced. A thriving Main Street can provide that experience.

Small business owners are essential to good municipal leadership. They are the first to feel the impact of local ordinances and statutes that affect property zoning and uses, and have the best insight as to the potential threat or protection such ordinances offer. They are always the first to question local authorities about a business’ right to free enterprise. Business owners can be counted on to voice their opinion on local political issues, and are the most interested in preserving the community’s culture. They are the most well-educated about past governance, and the historic mistakes made by poor leadership, and are most willing to contest cumbersome local statutes that create a burden on the community.

In many cases, they put their money where their mouth is by becoming a part of the local political landscape as committee or town council members. Their motivation often stems from an experience in which they feel the business community is being abused by elected officials who are not responsible for paying the price of burdensome policy. The harmonious relationship, or lack thereof, between local government and small businesses will make or break a community.

Small businesses account for fifty percent of job creation in the United States. Most small businesses may have fewer than five employees, and usually employ people they know; friends, family, neighbors, or folks recommended to them by a close trusted party. Small businesses are usually the first to invest into the local workforce. Small businesses may not always be in a position to provide the same perks as a major corporation, however most small businesses will accommodate a schedule of a local employee if they need time off to care for a child at home, or school, or a local event. Sometimes the local small business owner may also own home and have children in the school system, or be a coach of a local sports team in town, so they understand the importance of life beyond business, and many become iconic employers for generations of teens getting their first job.

A small business strives to be a positive influence in the community, and therefore usually are the first to donate resources to become the sponsor of a local little league baseball team or football team. Many small business owners understand the importance of giving back, so they may volunteer to help a local non-profit cause, and my donate money to that cause. Business owners may be spotted cleaning their storefront windows, sweeping their sidewalks and speaking with local patrons to ensure customer satisfaction. Small business owners usually accept the idea of self-responsibility and to be of service to the community in which they call home. These business owners may be the volunteers that make up your local fire department or first aid squad, and will close their door in aiding a situation when duty calls.

Main Street Entrepreneurs know the importance of reinvesting in their properties, and in the community. A local business’ economic growth is only as successful as the residents and community around them. Small businesses on Main Street have been known to reinvest part of their money into the upkeep of their building, or will take lead on a local project that enhances the value of the community. They make their money locally and usually will spend their money locally, thus keeping part of those earnings cycled within the community. They will patron other local businesses in the hopes of creating a network of local commercial clients in addition to local patrons.

Small businesses are a symbol of American Free Enterprise. They represent the local resident who was willing to put at risk their assets or wealth, put forth all of their own efforts in creating an opportunity for themselves and others, on their own hard work and merits. Rarely do you find the local business capitalizing on property tax credits or grant incentives from government programs. They have to be creative, innovative, and rely on their reputation for offering the best product and/or service they can to their clientele. Small businesses commit to the success of their own enterprises and assume the additional responsibility to see that Main Street succeeds. In many cases they put people before profit.

In order to protect the American Free Enterprise system, we must support Main Street. If we are to desire a handle on out-of-control property taxes, we must encourage local entrepreneurs to invest into Main Street. If we want more of a choice as to where to spend our consumer dollars besides big box stores, then as a community, we must adopt the culture of shopping locally. In turn we must extend the olive branch to the local entrepreneur and provide the pre-existing conditions necessary for the small business to realize opportunity and success. If we don’t, it may be then end of Main Street as we know it, and Main Street will be as extinct as the dinosaur. Once it is gone, it can never be brought back to life.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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