Small businesses are important now more than ever before

Op-EdAppeared in Array on June 9, 2020By Alfredo Ortiz

There’s no denying that businesses, especially small ones, have taken a financial hit in the past few months. But in the days after the initial economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak and containment precautions, we were quickly reminded of the vital role these businesses play in our communities.

In the United States alone, there are more than 30 million small businesses that employ nearly 60 million people. Small businesses are the engine of the economy and the livelihood of so many Americans. And in an instant, there was great uncertainty for many of those individuals.

Small businesses operate on modest budgets and economic disruptions can easily push operations over the cliff.

REPRESENTING MAIN STREET
My organization, the Job Creators Network, worked tirelessly with government officials and the White House to ensure that small businesses were represented and supported in every relief package that was passed by Congress. As each phase of relief was negotiated, we elevated the voice of Main Street, expressing their needs and desires, and worked closely with our partner organizations like AAHOA to amplify our collective voices.

During the initial safeguards, like social distancing and crowd limitations, local communities came together in support of the most vulnerable. We were all reminded of the great importance of small businesses.

SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES
Many Americans supported their local restaurants by purchasing gift cards or ordering delivery. Through campaigns like The Great American Takeout, a social media push that encouraged diners to support local businesses by ordering takeout, restaurants received a boost in sales.

Restaurants had to adapt quickly when limited to delivery and takeout services; many had to join third-party delivery apps like Grubhub and UberEats in order to survive. Even fine-dining restaurants resorted to delivery, adjusting their menus to provide food that could be transported. Other restaurants opened “markets” that provided customers with pantry staples that weren’t readily available at grocery stores, like dry goods, dairy products, and even toilet paper.

MADE IN THE USA
Additionally, we were reminded of the importance of American-made products over foreign, mass-produced items. This crisis halted the availability of many necessities, but we saw U.S. companies rise to the occasion. In the effort to fill product gaps, businesses around the country were adjusting to the needs of the market, specifically, the needs of health care workers.

In Texas, Bendt Distilling, Co. halted production of whiskey in order to provide hospitals, law enforcement, and first responders with free hand sanitizer. In Boston, New Balance announced it would be manufacturing masks for hospital workers. The country’s oldest clothing company, Brooks Brothers, did the same.

Moreover, Facebook launched a program pledging $100 million to aid small businesses during the crisis. Following suit, Google also announced that it would provide $800 million to small businesses and other groups.

The list goes on.

These are just a few examples of the efforts communities have made to support peers, small businesses, hourly employees, first responders, and hospitals.

NAVIGATING UNCERTAINTY
The COVID-19 crisis provided vast uncertainty for small business owners. But with swift action from politicians, support and sacrifice from communities, and the use of technology, many owners were able to gain traction and adjust to this new way of doing business.

Recovery from this recession for small businesses is crucial. As businesses and the economy rebuilds, politicians should continue to have Main Street’s best interests in mind as they continue to draft legislation. Moving past this catastrophe will take time, but mom-and-pop shops are resilient and unstoppable when smart policies support and allow them to be.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are several focuses that should have the attention of lawmakers and voters alike. Freezing minimum-wage hikes is one example. Adding additional financial burden to the backs of small business owners will only make the fallout of the pandemic worse.

Some states and localities that had planned on raising the minimum wage later this year have placed that legislative item on hold. For example, Hayward, CA, was supposed to implement new minimum-wage legislation starting on July 1. As a result of recent events, they have postponed this measure. Other localities should take note.

Instead, lawmakers should focus on ensuring small businesses are prepared to reopen and quickly get employees back to work. Early efforts passed by Congress, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, helped small businesses weather the initial stages of the crisis. But now we need to get them past the finish line.

The next few months will be a time of rebuilding for the economy and our communities. We must continue to encourage smart policies while continuing to support small businesses. After all, small business is too big to fail.

Alfredo Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network.