As lawmakers struggle to reverse the worst American economic recession in decades, they are pouring resources into corporate America through corporate bailouts, new taxes and stimulus packages. Unfortunately, these efforts ignore the fact that family businesses are the true foundation of our economy and hold the keys for the nations economic recovery. For true economic growth, lawmakers must change tactics and actively support this forgotten sector of our economy. Family business assistance programmes are suffering. There is an immediate need for government and society to send a clear message in support of family businesses, their impact on the business community, and the economy as a whole. Unless and until this happens, family businesses will exercise caution when investing in new jobs, equipment and plants, thereby slowing down the nations economic recovery. Family-owned and -operated businesses represent more than 70 percent of all the US businesses and approximately 40 percent of the Fortune 500. They built this nations economy and they will be instrumental in transforming the current economic climate. With personal and professional dedication rarely witnessed in corporations, family businesses have what is needed to get this nation back on track. They stimulate the economy by hiring locally, buying locally, and giving back to local communities. The Pacific Northwest is fortunate to have many such family-owned businesses. Family businesses possess five unique qualities that are sorely needed to get our economy back on track. First, family businesses are guided by a long-term outlook that protects the interests of past and future generations. Instead of seeking quick money, traditional family businesses seek sustainable, long-lasting business models that can bring in a steady stream of revenue for succeeding generations. Second, many of the strategies developed and implemented by family businesses are contrary to the widely accepted business practices of corporate America. For example, family businesses have a lower cost of capital and lower administrative costs, because they tend to have lower CEO compensation and less investment in financial systems and controls. In addition, family-owned businesses are better able to take advantage of opportunities that lead to quick innovation, whereas hierarchy and protocol often interfere with the ability of large corporations to seize new opportunities. Third, family-business owners tend to be fiercely independent, relying on their own ideas, strengths and resources. They rarely seek external financial assistance or bailouts, and the informal investments of friends and family in start up companies far outweigh formal investment. According to a 2002 study by the Kauffman Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Babson College, venture capitalists had provided less than one-quarter of the equity for new ventures launched since the mid-1990s. The independent nature of family businesses leads to sustainable business models. Fourth, within family businesses, each new generation observes the dedication and commitment required for business success. Members of the succeeding generation incorporate these values into their own work. Most family businesses also highly value their communities, supporting philanthropic activities and volunteering their time far more than their corporate counterparts. Finally, family businesses excel at striking the right balance. They struggle to weigh the needs of the family against those of the business. Inevitably, they accept that it is impossible to strike the perfect balance, instead finding solutions that favour one set of interests for a period of time before that balance shifts. In this way, they remain flexible enough to adapt to changing economic conditions. Because of these five unique qualities, the return on investments in family businesses will be much greater than the return on similar investments in the United States. However, for this to become a reality, family businesses need the confidence and reassurance of a solid government commitment to their success. Seattle Times