The U.S. economy will not get back to its full growth potential without more entrepreneurs, the top executive of one of the world's most influential public-opinion research organizations said during a trip to the Richmond area Thursday.
"The United States of America doesn't have an innovation problem; it has an entrepreneur problem," said Jim Clifton, chairman and chief executive officer of Gallup.
"What we are really good at is innovation," Clifton said. "This country is a master of intellectual development."
The United States is not producing enough entrepreneurs who can take innovative ideas and build growing businesses that create new jobs, said Clifton, who spoke Thursday night at the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce's 93rd annual dinner.
In an interview, Clifton said the U.S. needs to produce at least 2 million new businesses a year to see healthy economic growth. It will produce only 400,000 this year, he said.
The nation's 6 million small businesses are where two-thirds of the jobs are, and where about two-thirds of new jobs come from, he said.
Drawing from Gallup's survey research of small business, Clifton said small-business owners are either over-regulated or perceive that they are in an environment of over-regulation.
"We need to lighten up the saddle," he said.
Another issue is middle school and high school students who show entrepreneurial talent and desires don't always get enough mentoring and internship opportunities early in their education, he said.
Clifton said the solution must come from local leaders, rather than the federal government.
"The difference is local leadership," he said. "Does a city actually make a commitment to community education and development?"
He noted Austin, Texas, as one city with "a thriving entrepreneurial spirit and energy."
"We have to be more intentional about developing the existing small businesses in our cities," he said. "The whole country will either grow one city at a time or go broke one city at a time."
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