Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

DURHAM, N.C. – For all the billions that have been spent on so-called “shovel ready jobs” during the ongoing economic crisis in this country, 25 private ventures demonstrated to anyone willing to see than small businesses remain the true job creators.

On Wednesday, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the Michigan-based Edward Lowe Foundation recognized companies from across the state in tech, textiles, manufacturing, music, agriculture and more. These “North Carolina Companies to Watch” firms have grown their payrolls by 229 percent since 2007 even as the work force of North Carolina and the U.S. has shrunk and long-term unemployment remains at Great Depression levels.

(Update: More bad news on triangle jobs picture – Unemployment is up to 8.5 percent, seasonally adjusted. Read here for details.)

On Monday at another entrepreneur event, one executive told me: “Where’s the recession? I can’t find enough engineers and sales people.” Numerous venture-backed startups in the Triangle, such as Argyle Social, have new funds and are looking to hire.

On Wednesday, I toured videogame startup accelerator Joystick Labs and met with three companies that could be big job producers. One, Lab Rats Studio, has gone from three to 10 people, in a matter of months. (Read more about Joystick’s startups here.)

Bottom line: Startups and so-called “emerging growth companies” as featured by the CED are where the jobs action is.

Some highlights:

• Durham-based Spoonflower, founded by former executives at Lulu, enable customers to design and print their own fabrics.

• The folks at Moog Music in Asheville continue to grow the synthesizer legacy of the late inventor Robert Moog. They consider themselves the “caretakers” of his legacy.

• Gemogic in RTP spreads the magic of 3-D around the world, from prosthetics to car and aerospace design.

• BioResource International in Morrisville is helping feed the world with its enzyme technology.

• LoneRider Brewing Company in Raleigh is winning fans with its tasty brews. (By the way, its CEO, Sumit Vorha, has hands-down the best c-level title: Chief Drinking Officer.)

• Jackrabbit Technologies, located just outside Charlotte, has grown 400 percent in manpower since 2004 but all its 17 employees work virtually as it delivers software as a service (SaaS) for business management.

• FLS Energy in Asheville and Southern Energy Management in Morrisville are working to make green energy practical.

• And Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview is making agriculture fun and greener as well as a moneymaker.

So here we have 25 companies across a spectrum of businesses demonstrating how to succeed at business while really trying.

Some 300 people jammed the event, and even more people who attended another entrepreneurial program in Durham came over for a reception earlier.

The atmosphere at the mixer and the banquet was energizing. So, too, was the mood at the Southern Capitol Venture’s program about SaaS. Based on the excitement, the networking and the good news about jobs mixed with revenue growth, one would have never known that the rest of the economy is headed into a double-dip recession.

Keep up the good work, entrepreneurs. You hold a big key to bringing the economy back from the abyss.

You have the shovel ready jobs.

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