Note:  We’re adding a new feature to our site – a focus on energy and small business we’re calling “Small Business Power.”  We’re kicking it off with this three-part series of blog posts, “On a Mission.”  Read Part 1 here.  Read Part 2 here.

From Bea Wray

What motivates individuals and companies to act on behalf of their communities? Before I dive deeper into this question, I wonder, “What is community involvement, anyway?”

Google says it is “the power to bring positive, measurable change to both the communities in which you operate and to your business.” This definition provides some clues like “power” and “measurable.”

I have been wondering about this question a great deal.  As recently as today the SCANA shareholders voted to accept the proposed Dominion merger.

Make a Difference placard

Additionally, Commission member assignments have been made in the SC House of Representatives for individuals to evaluate the potential sale of Santee Cooper.

Yet when I speak with business people, it seems like nobody cares. The superstar soloist of “This is Me” in The Greatest Showman Keala Settle’s voice rings in my head. She has nearly 100,000 views of a mini YouTube video with Seth Rudetsky singing “Nobody Cares.

What makes people care? What makes them pay attention? What would make people in South Carolina care enough to pay attention? To form opinions? To write to their congressmen? Is it a tipping point of money? Is it an emotional connection to any particular family? Maybe a Santee Cooper customer whose average income might be less than $49,000, yet over time will pay over $49,000 for mistakes they didn’t make, as reported by Palmetto Promise Institute.

These are questions I ponder and especially so when I think about small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are people who have decided to bet on themselves. Additionally, they often have a much greater sense of urgency and shorter runway than business people working in a large company. Finally, entrepreneurs generally feel the results of their actions far more quickly than those working in a corporate setting. So it makes sense to me that the business owners I talk to are far more eager to engage in dialogue about their business strategy, new hires, customer behavior, etc., than they are to think about decisions a politician is making two hours up the road.

From front left to right (counter-clockwise): Wade Boals, Cathy Petkash, John Simmert, Bea Wray

I recently had the chance to learn from business superstars John Simmert, General Manager of Beech on King Street, Wade Boals, an owner of Saltwater Cowboys on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, and Cathey Petkash, a national consultant around franchise businesses. I wanted to ask about energy, how they use it, how it impacts their business, what they do to manage costs, etc. So I did. The conversation was fascinating and different details are shared through different blog posts (here and here). Additionally, I learned something even more fascinating about human behavior and motivation, I think, that is especially true with entrepreneurs.

It seems like the closer the business is to the problem, the more likely the business owner is to engage. This is consistent with Google’s reference to the power to make change and measurable results.

For example, Wade Boals explained that his water bill is $10,000 per month. So, he is beginning to question the rate cost. This rate is significantly more than his electric bill for now, which is $6,500 per month and does not include gas. Wade shared, “I immediately wonder what can I do? What is the cost per gallon? Is it fair?” Could Wade use his contacts and influence to gather interested citizens, businesses and residents together to ask questions and get answers about the rates, for example? Would they have a voice as a collective group? I have to believe they would and will. Maybe it is the small size of the town, the large percentage of the businesses that are similar to Wade’s, the personal connections that all make it more likely that time spent pursuing questions about the water and utility rates is time well spent. If there is a chance to change the rate, that feels measurable and powerful?

I still wonder what it takes to call people to action on a state level. Yet, I feel that learning from local community involvement about the importance of proximity, relationships, and influence is a step in the right direction.