If you're like Don Rumsfeld and always on the lookout for another reason to call them "old Europe," an essay in last Sunday's Washington Post will surely make you feel good: According to the writer, Anne Dumas, a journalist and business consultant in Paris, the preponderance and success of small businesses in France for the last 40 years has been beyond pathetic.
Dumas notes that:
"In France ... the unemployment rate has been stuck between 9 and 10 percent for a quarter of a century and ... not a single enterprise founded here in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today's 25 largest U.S. companies didn't exist four decades ago."
Do not think for a second that France does not have a lot of small businesses. It does. The problem is just that they aren't Inc. businesses -- that is to say, they aren't growing. According to the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies in Paris, French small businesses contribute 50 percent of total economic output and employ two-thirds of the total workforce. A considerable force, to be sure; yet, not a single one of these companies has expanded in any meaningful way. In other words, they may build them, but they do not grow.
The country is trying to be a little more American now, at least when it comes to its economic development. Dumas notes several initiatives underway, such as the creation of a National Research Agency with a $2.4 billion fund to focus on innovation; the creation of a French Small Business Administration; and a government push behind large-scale industrial programs to spark competitiveness.
But for the country that gave us the word "entrepreneur," these seem to be less than inspiring developments.
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