U.S. Economy Thrives on the Pearls of Small Business

It began where all good things happen -- in the kitchen.

Erin Edwards, a 33-year old, stay-at-home mom of four beautiful children, sat in her kitchen in Tulsa, Okla., and began teaching herself in 2009 “how to make jewelry by Googling, reading books and magazines,” she says.

Next, Erin took her handcrafted jewelry to eBay, and as consumer interest rose, she and her husband Ryan opened up a shop on Etsy, an e-commerce website. Next came their own website.

And then, in June of 2010, “we opened up a retail store in Tulsa,” plus another store, Erin says.

And now with her husband Ryan, 37, (whose email signature sign-off is “Be Blessed,” gotta love that), Erin has a bustling business, “The Vintage Pearl,” which employs more than five dozen workers.

There’s a bull market in doom and gloom these days. But small businesses are still chugging along, the heart and soul of the U.S. economy, the artisanal small shops who create the lion's  share of jobs in the U.S. economy.

These are the very same small businesses less than five years old that were responsible for nearly all net job creation between 1980 and 2005. And they’re still moving forward, despite the industrial-strength denial coming out of D.C. that wants to hit small businesses with higher taxes, because Washington, D.C. has a monopoly claim on taxpayer wallets -- and because Washington believes it can summon the growth fairy on its own with tax and spend policies.

Ok, maybe that was too much journalism jaundice (I have a headache). Because I’m an optimist (I plan to have my epitaph on my tombstone read: “I’m in it for the long term"), I’d like to point out that, yes, the U.S. economy is hurting, but is healthy, vibrant and strong.

“The Vintage Pearl” is evidence of that.

Erin, Ryan and their team of 61 workers run a studio where they make customized jewelry out of sterling silver, freshwater pearls and birthstone crystals that incorporate names, dates or words of inspiration. The team hand crafts necklaces, bracelets, key chains, leather cuffs, earrings, even dog tags, baby spoons, and more.

Plus, “The Vintage Pearl” even has time for charity, working closely with several nonprofits such as Christian Ministries, orphanages, food pantries, as well as groups that fight child trafficking.

“We have a heart for people in need, and the success of the company allows us to give,” Ryan says.

A bright spot in all the silly, self-indulgent doom and gloom talk about the U.S. economy. Yes,   it’s dreadful the U.S. manufacturing base is being hollowed out by cheaper labor in China and elsewhere. Our workers deserve better.

And yet we’ve got a solid small business sector and a thriving services economy in health care, legal, information technology, plus a powerful R&D culture.

And the list is long and glorious of the U.S. powerhouse companies launched during economic downturns: Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), General Electric (NYSE:GE), International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) -- they all have their roots in the “long depression” of the 1890s.

United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) began during the Great Depression, FedEx (NYSE:FDX), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) all launched during the terrible seventies.

And there are lots of Vintage Pearl stories all throughout the U.S. economy.

Today, “12% of working adults have decided to start their own business,” says a new study based on 1,642 interviews of Americans by Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. And “women are leading this charge - one in 10 women report returning to the workforce to help make ends meet,” it says.

It’s not just because of the downturn either. “Nearly one-quarter (23%) of working adults are unhappy at work,” Bellevue University’s study finds. “They report wanting to change the type of work they do because they want to find a job doing something they actually enjoy.”

Just ask Erin and Ryan about that. And their four happy children.