Small Business Survival Statistics—and Benchmark Birthdays

Small businesses are the fabric of our economic culture—here’s a look at what it takes to make it.

Surviving even one year in small business is, well, big business. A benchmark. 

Pandemic notwithstanding, roughly 20% (read: 1 in 5) of small businesses will fail their first year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration and data compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a number that drops drastically as firm size increases. From there, only half will make it to age 5, and a mere 30% to 10.

Not unlike our own tenuous toddler stage, the early years are volatile for small businesses—which include any independent business with fewer than 500 employees (and account for 99.9% of America’s firms). Per studies by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, the No. 1 reason for failure is low cash flow and sales—spawned by such causes as: the market simply doesn’t need the product or service, capital shortage, competition, pricing and so on. That said, as one might expect, after those first few uncertain years, the survival rate flattens out.

In business, unlike in life, with age comes respect—real reverence. You’ve cornered the market—literally—a far cry from how we fetishize youth culture and attach shame to aging socially. In the market, the wrinkles of time and the amassing of birthday milestones are dignified—recognized for grit, prowess, stamina and perseverance (not to mention brand awareness, customer loyalty
and so on).

In the world of business, birth is literally just the beginning—with no promises for making it. And each birthday is a marathon milestone of mettle and determination (especially in the past few years when survival of the fittest has been more applicable than ever).

To that end, throughout the issue, we fete the feats of local companies, entrepreneurs and trailblazers who overcame the odds to reach huge birthday benchmarks—those who have survived the test of time and are celebrating a benchmark birthday, from 5 to 165 (!). 

50 Years
EST. 1972 
Ragsdale Liggett 

One of the longest-lived multidisciplinary firms in the state, Ragsdale Liggett provides legal services across a range of practice areas—from business law to civil litigation to real estate law. Since its founding by George Ragsdale and Frank Liggett, the eponymous firm has seen successes from local state courts to the Supreme Court—garnering with them frequent top-tier peer ratings to boot. Now in its 50th year, the firm’s “milestone is a testament to its ability to thrive in a highly competitive market, adjust to the ever-changing business and legal landscape, and become one of the state’s most admired law firms,” says David Liggett, who attributes its legal prowess and longevity to the strong foundation laid by its namesakes. “We are proud of the way we practice law,” adds David, who is only the second managing partner in the firm’s history. “We have talented lawyers and paralegals who do sophisticated work in an environment that is unusual for a firm of our size.”

165 Years
William Peace University
EST. 1857

135 Years
NC State University
EST. 1887

85 Years
State Employees Credit Union
EST. 1937

80 Years
RDU International Airport
EST. 1943*

75 Years
Medlin-Davis Cleaners
EST. 1948*

50 Years
EST. 1972

5 Years
The Cardinal at North Hills
EST. 2017

*Celebrated anniversary last year or are celebrating next year

For more major milestones click here. For retail, click here. For entertainment, click here.

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About the Author

Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.