At what point do they cross this perceived line between good and evil?
A Facebook "Friend" posted this on the social-networking website's "Wall" the other day:
"When you buy from a mom or pop business, you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home.
"You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a Mom or Dad put food on the table, a family pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college.
"Our customers are our shareholders and they are the ones we strive to make happy.
"Thank you for supporting small businesses!"
And, of course, it ended with the absolutely essential piece added to all Facebook wisdom, "Hit Share if you agree!"
My wife, being the good, progressive Democrat that she is, immediately hit the "Like" button, but when I came upon it later, I found myself a bit taken aback by the entire premise and even a little hurt by it.
You see, I had worked for 17 years with a large grocery distributor with headquarters here in the Twin Cities, a Fortune 500 company. I knew the CEO personally, and he was one of the kindest, most giving men I have ever met.
Not only that, but his ingenuity and hard work had helped create a company that had allowed me to do for my family all of the things that the small-business owner in this Facebook post was said to be doing for his family.
This was not just my family's story. It's the story of my coworkers and friends all over the Midwest. We had distribution centers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Fargo, N.D.; Grand Island, Neb.; Rapid City, S.D., and St. Cloud, Minn., and stores in dozens of other communities.
Don't we count? This CEO hadn't just provided a nice life for his family, but for 10,000 other families his company employed who were raising children, supporting schools, coaching little league and helping make this country, dare I say, great. Yet somehow he is now the bad guy? By association, am I, too?
Looking back on the company's history, I wonder exactly when it was that it went from being what helped make America great to part of our new need to demonize success and growth. It started as a "mom and pop" store in the hinterlands of North Dakota. It was good at what it did and was able to grow and prosper and employ people.
At what point in this growth process did it become the epitome of all that is wrong with America? Was it when it opened its second store? When it ventured from retail to distribution? When it relocated to Minneapolis? When it crossed the 1,000-employee mark?
More than a year ago, my stepson went to work for a smaller business: Proto Labs, in Maple Plain. This company was founded in 1999 with an idea to change the injection molding industry. It started small -- doesn't everybody? -- but with innovation and hard work it has grown rapidly and has added 400 jobs in Minnesota in the last three years.
My stepson has been able to move out of our house, get his own apartment and buy a car. I want to give CEO Brad Cleveland a big thank-you hug. The company also is rated as one of Minnesota's top workplaces by the Star Tribune.
That prompts a question: As it shifts from being a small business to a bigger corporation, when in the eyes of the antibusiness movement does it become part of America's problem? At what point does Brad Cleveland move from a success to a person deserving of our scorn? He's got to be getting close.
What about the idyllic small-business owner mentioned on the Facebook page? I certainly do not want to see such enterprises go away; I enjoy supporting businesses run by good people with quality products wherever they are to be found.
But just being "small" does not guarantee any of the above, including what the owner may be doing with the money I spend at the establishment. Aren't we also discounting that many of these small businesses hope and dream of their idea or product being so well-received that they, too, can expand and -- heaven forbid -- make more money?
Yes, there are two sides to the story, and we know that all is not well in corporate America. There are companies that have forgotten that long-term success comes through treating employees well and being vibrant members of the communities they operate in.
The short-term rewards of looking good to Wall Street have allowed some to lose their way, and in some corporations, a few have profited obscenely at the expense of the many. My guess is these companies will not last in the long haul, but certainly there is room for reform in corporate America.
However, it won't be achieved by demonizing the companies and CEOs who employ thousands of us and our hardworking neighbors, who, in turn -- like the families cited on the Facebook Wall -- are putting food on the table and paying mortgages, often because of the ingenuity and fortitude of a visionary leader.
Tim Turner, of Coon Rapids, works in the juvenile-justice system in Ramsey County.