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If you harbored any doubts about the importance of small businesses to job growth, then you should consider the results of new research looking at payroll data over the past ten years. The clear conclusion is that the lion’s share of employment growth over the long term has happened at establishments employing fewer than 50 people.

But the implications for our current economic situation are disturbing.

The research, from Case Western Reserve’s Scott Shane, looked at data collected from Automated Data Processing’s monthly employment numbers from 2000 to 2010. The numbers are broken down into three categories: establishments with 1-49, 50-499, and more than 499 employees. By establishment, ADP means “a single physical location where business transactions take place and for which payroll and employment records are kept.”

According to Shane’s analysis, the most job loss has occurred at the bigger establishments. For example, in March 2010, the biggest folks employed 84.3 percent of the people who worked for them in December 2000. As for establishments with 50 to 499 workers, they employed 93.6 percent of those who worked for them over that same time period.

But, for the smallest establishments, the story is startlingly different. They now employ 103.5 percent of the people they employed in December 2000.

Then, there’s a study from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation I wrote about recently. It showed that high-growth companies that are three -to- five years old account for about 10 percent of new jobs in any given year, although they make up less than one percent of all businesses.

But, if small establishments and so-called gazelle firms are so important to job growth, then the latest data from the National Federation of Independent Business, reported on by my colleague Stephen Taub, is especially sobering. The findings showed continued decreases in hiring and flat growth in capital expenditures.

It all has urgent implications for government policy. Given the importance of fast-growing young firms, in particular, to employment creation, the wisest policies would be those that support these promising, three-to-five year old businesses. Something has to be done to get our engine of employment creation back on track.