By Stephanie Malench
Since March of this year, small businesses have disproportionately felt the economic sting from the shutdowns stemming from COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 163,735 businesses have closed according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Locally, Dawn Mushill, Executive Director of the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce, said that none of the businesses who belong to the Chamber have closed during the pandemic except for A&R Paints and Crafts due to retirement, but she expects permanent closures in the area to begin with another lockdown.
The Collinsville Chamber of Commerce was not available for comment and the Ed-Glen Chamber was unable to provide numbers
One local resident has set out on a mission to save small businesses not just for this area, but across the United States. Chuck Milam, owner of St. Jacob Automotive and Frosty Pony Ice Cream in St. Jacob was recently selected to serve on the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council.
Milam moved to St. Jacob three years ago with his family after retiring as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy. Milam has continued working with the U.S. Congress and military services to transform the Department of Defense food system to offer healthier choices like those served in the nation’s colleges and universities. Additionally, Milam is helping military families with special needs get connected with resources when they are transferred to a new area.
Milam always wanted to own a small business in a small town. The first thing he noticed was an old, dilapidated car repair shop in the middle of the small 1,100 resident village of St. Jacob. Milam and his family bought the shop, and the empty lot adjacent to the shop.
St. Jacob Automotive is now 2.5 years old and the Frosty Pony 18 months old.
Milam’s business model is unique and focused on giving back to the community. It started early in St. Jacob Automotive’s history when an elderly couple came into the shop to have their brakes repaired and one of his technicians noticed that their tires were bad. Because the couple was traveling back and forth to St. Louis everyday for medical treatments, their truck was not safe so he replaced the tires for free. Milam supports several organizations, charities, schools, sports teams and individuals on a regular basis in St. Jacob and the surrounding area. He is a member of the St. Jacob Lions Club and serves as a park commissioner for the St. Jacob Township Park.
Because of his frequent work with Congress, a member of Congress encouraged Milam to join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council and share his experience and leverage his skills on a national level.
Milam is one of about 70 small business council members across the United States advocating for 30 million small businesses, and is the only member representing the large region spanning from southern Illinois to eastern Missouri. Unlike local chambers of commerce, members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce must be small business owners and cannot join just to network their business.
Mushill had this to say about Milam beginning his journey with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: He is the small business. I am excited that he is part of that [the Chamber]. Milam is a great advocate for St. Jacob businesses”.
Milam has been a member of the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce for over two years. He feels a conduit to the Federal Government will help make changes for small businesses. “We have to do more than just advertise goods and services for small businesses, we have to advocate for their support at the local, state and federal levels. Even small businesses who are not Chamber members need support and advocacy.”
When asked how he sees small businesses fairing in the short-term and long-term due to COVID-19, Milam said many small businesses are struggling right now. Small business owners and entrepreneurs are giving up on the dream of owning a small business and “unless we can open up under a vaccine, small businesses will struggle to remain solvent”. He also sees the food industry struggling until a safe plan is developed and feels additional stimulus packages specific to the industry are needed.
Milam believes that the biggest success factor for small businesses is at the grassroots level with support of their communities. He will work with area legislators and businesses to get more support for small businesses.
Looking ahead to January 2021, Milam believes the top priorities for the next elected president’s administration and Congress should be to rebuild our economy by supporting and healing our small businesses. They should provide immediate incentive loans and grants to help small business owners get back on their feet as well as offer tax and jobs incentives for growth and innovation and encourage states and local counties to do the same.