When I first knew Betty Neisler she was only 30 years old, and her oldest son was a teenager. She and her husband married young, like the country people they were. She had apple cheeks, brown eyes, and a big, loud laugh.
She had round arms, and something about her made you expect to see her rolling out biscuits with a rolling pin. But biscuits were not what she made. She was an entrepreneur. She created a business.
Neisler started a small company. It was a telephone answering service, a call center for medical professionals, including doctors and dentists. I think she started Telemed in the 1960s, when switchboard operators routed calls by plugging cloth-covered physical lines into sockets, the origin of the phrase, “let me connect your call.”
She worked hard, she looked after her employees, and her house was welcoming for younger people.
Her youngest child’s room was decorated in lavender—a special treat for the only daughter. Bedspread, bed, carpet, ceiling, walls, pillows, curtains, every one of them was lavender. That was her favorite color, and her parents wanted to give her joy.
Neisler’s business could have been eaten up by technological change. It could have been sent to Bangalore. But she adapted it, and today it employs 60 people and generates $3 million in annual revenue.
That lavender-loving daughter now is the director of operations.
Small businesses are essential. Without them, there either would not be an economy, or it might be the kind of economy portrayed in the first “RoboCop” movie—a ruthlessly exploitative monopoly like OmniCorp.
Out of 1,000 companies employing people in the United States, 997 have fewer than 500 workers, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Small-business owners are also connected to their local communities. And they are the real job creators.
President Barack Obama proclaimed this week to be National Small Business Week. He called small businesses “the lifeblood of our economy, employing half of our country’s workforce and creating nearly two out of every three new American jobs.”
The SBA is all about valuing and supporting those small entrepreneurs. Its SCORE program, Service Corps of Retired Executives, gives pro bono consulting.
Now, the government eliminated SBA fees on loans under $ 150,000 dollars and waived fees for veterans who take out loans under $350,000, according to Obama.
The agency wants small businesses to succeed and grow, and it wants to get the word out, about how it can help, according to SBA Regional Administrator Cassius Butts.
Access to capital is key to business survival, and the SBA’s no fee, low interest loans are meant to let them survive and thrive.
Butts has overseen nearly $8 billion in SBA-backed loans in his Southeastern region. He said he is proud of that.
I am proud of Betty Neisler, having started a company that navigated enormous technological changes.
Her business had legs, and she still has apple cheeks and round arms.
I ran into her at a high-end restaurant with gleaming mahogany and etched glass. I heard her big laugh before I saw her. She was enjoying a gourmet lunch. Her work has generated countless lunches and dinners and breakfasts for her employees, and for her children.
Small business image via Shutterstock