Speaker hopes to spark business interest in youth

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By Robert Allen

James “Jay” Bailey, Atlanta CEO of Operation HOPE, provided a presentation about fostering entrepreneurship and a new generation of business owners among Gadsden’s youth. 

The presentation was organized by Judge Kathy Garner and hosted May 28 at the Gadsden Arts Center. Community leaders from a wide range of local organizations attended, filling the hall to standing room only. 

“You have to start creating stakeholders and empowering your community,” said Bailey, underscoring the improvement in peoples’ behavior when they are invested in their own town. Bailey said the critical way to achieve this sense of investment is through owning a business. 

But the path to opening a small business is not clear to many young people. 

According to Bailey, 78 percent of all kids want to own their own business — but only 5 percent have a business role model, a number the speaker said is often even smaller in rural areas such as Gadsden County. 

“Every school I go to across America, if I ask the kids what they want to be, it’s either Labron James, some actor — or if the kids are really honest, they tell me they want to deal dope,” said Bailey. “And these kids want to be athletes, rappers and dope dealers not because they’re stupid. If you’re a successful dope dealer, you understand import, export, property, security, customer service, retention — all the basic business tenants, misdirected. You’re not talking about dumb kids. You’re talking about brilliant kids that are only mimicking what they see.” 

The impact this loss of potential has on a community and an economy is quantifiably real. 

According to Bailey, 90 percent of the U.S. economy is based on small business — and 78 percent of the nation’s new jobs are generated by small business. 

“To often we pop into a classroom and say, ‘You can do anything you want — and then we’re gone,’” said Bailey. “These kids want to swim. That’s it. But we’ve got to teach them a new way to swim.”