People love to talk about the free market, those raw, capitalistic forces of supply and demand that shape our nation’s economy.

But the truth is that we haven’t had a truly free market in the United States in more than 100 years, if ever. Government can regulate businesses out of existence with taxes or restricting legislation. Conversely, laws can be passed that are favorable to one sector or another, such as the Affordable Care Act, which among other things is a huge boon to the insurance industry.

And in this plutocracy we’ve created, those corporations that have grown more powerful than the government can manipulate the game at every level.

The cities of the Triad routinely give handouts in the form of tax incentives, reduced or free rent, sweetheart loans, prioritized municipal services like water and waste collection, public transportation to facilities, and sometimes just a straight-up payout. One Greensboro developer was even given a well-traveled downtown street to accommodate one of his projects.

Often lost in this government bounty are the small businesses and cultural bit-players who occupy the tiers beneath the outsized egos and powerful interests that dominate any city conversation about economic development.

Small, grassroots businesses don’t need six- or seven-figure incentives packages. But more than the big guys, they need a leg up.

We’ve been plugging micro-grants and microloans — small but meaningful amounts of money for local businesses and artisans — for this very reason.

So we stand behind Action Greensboro’s new Spark Fund, a micro-grant program looking to hand out up to $5,000 every quarter for “new projects that will improve downtown” beginning next month — you can apply at the Action Greensboro website.

And we applaud Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, which just handed out 10 mini-grants of up to $500 for projects that “infuse the arts into all segments of our community, promote creativity, provide greater access to the arts and bring people together.”

But we don’t think they go quite far enough.

City budgets range from $340 million in High Point to more than $400 million in Greensboro. Surely each city can carve off a small fraction of a percentage, say $100,000, to be earmarked for 10 micro-grants of $10,000 each— a meaningful amount of money to a home brewer or clothing designer — to be awarded to entrepreneurs based in the city.

Even if just one in 10 make it in the long run, our investment in our own people will have paid off.

Because while Greensboro has yet to attract an auto manufacturer, a major brewery or even a Trader Joe’s, small businesses have been rising to meet the employment demands of the city in their absence.

It’s time we incentivize that.

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