I got a call not long again from Virginia Sen. Ralph Smith — getting in touch, he said, not as a politician but as a concerned citizen.
There are three comments posted from small business owners in the region, too:
“I’m just getting started; I have had no problems but have not fully delved into serious business regulations.” —Housekeeper, Bedford
“The state is okay. Local municipalities can complicate things.”—Instructor, manager, coach, mediator, Salem
I previously owned a web design company in Virginia for 10 years. In 2009, when the economy got tough, I explored many channels through the state for assistance but nothing was ever done, so I was forced to close my business. When it comes to a technology or internet-based business in Virginia, they don’t really want to help you, unless you’re a huge company with deep pockets.” —Marketing professional and web designer, Washington [County]
In the wake of the “Downtown Roanoke is gentrified” blog post and questions over methodology, I got to wondering about how Thumbtack.com carried out its small business friendliness survey.
I spoke to Sander Daniels, the company’s co-founder. By way of background, Thumbtack.com functions as sort of an online bulletin board for small businesses.
Daniels said the company surveyed its members for this survey, which was released nearly two months ago. (BTW, there are many more details to all this here.)
Virginia had a lot of respondents, he said, so it was broken up into regions. Out of 200 or so respondents statewide, 27 of them came from western Virginia, which is geographically the biggest region on the map. The region includes southwest Virginia as well as good chunks of central and southside Virginia as well.
“I will say small business across the entire country and within Virginia told us the friendliness of licensing regulations was the most important factor to them,” Daniels said. “Tax rates, health and safety regulations were by far the biggest driver of a lot of these ranks. Western Virginia had the least friendly licensing regulations as rated by these small businesses.”
That raises a big question: Do the attitudes of small business owners accurately reflect the situation on the ground, especially in relation to other regions?
On that question, Daniels stands behind the survey’s methodology.
“We didn’t look at census data or the volume of regulations in an area or tax rates – we just asked the businesses themselves what their perspective was,” Daniels said. “I see that as a strength of the data. It’s not outsiders examining data and making rankings; it’s actually asking local people.”
Another question would be how much of those attitudes are based on state and federal policies — not local regulations.
Daniels said that the results show that many of the problems don’t in fact come down from federal or state governments — and as a result, the solutions won’t come from there either. Instead, it’s up to local governments.
Another question: Is 27 responses enough to gauge a pretty large area that includes several different cities as well as a variety of rural counties?
Daniels said Thumbtack.com made sure to include no fewer than 10 respondents when rating an area.
Finally, he said that it’s important to consider that these rankings were just within the state of Virginia. Overall, Virginia is rated as a business-friendly state — and that includes its western region as well as those in the east and north, he said.
“Since Virginia ranked well overall, western Virginia doesn’t rank poorly,” Daniels said. “It scores above average if you rank it compared to other regions in the country.”
We’re interested in your thoughts on this as well. Is this a solid, valuable survey that demonstrates problems that need to be solved for western Virginia to grow economically? Or do you have trouble buying some of the methodology and conclusions?
Post your thoughts in the comments.
– Mason Adams