By Chuck Milam
To most of us, supporting local small businesses means that we ask local customers to consider what shops in their own communities offer goods and services that will meet their needs. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, “Small Business Saturday” is devoted to encouraging community members to shop close to home. The saying “stay local, buy local” is relevant and so important, especially in today’s restricted COVID environment, but is it really enough to place the burden of small business support only on the loyal customers?
There’s no historical equivalent for what small businesses have experienced during this pandemic. Small businesses have closed in record numbers, unemployment has increased and our food and beverage industry is struggling every day to survive. Ninety seven percent of small businesses report some level of impact, whether it’s a reduction in sales or closure. The restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit, with approximately 60% of the jobs lost. According to research by the JP Morgan Chase Institute, “The median small business holds only enough cash reserves to survive 27 days.” We’ve been in a restricted or closed environment for ten months, with several months to go. Not many “small” businesses have that amount in cash reserves. Statistics show, there is a good chance one or more of your favorite small businesses won’t make it through this pandemic.
Keeping small businesses’ doors open during these trying times is a national, state and local imperative. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, accounting for over 40% of the US Economic activity and two thirds of the jobs. The federal government is aware of these numbers and they know that sitting by idly will crush this economy. The emergency funding and COVID relief bills help, but it’s not enough.
As a small business owner, member of local and national chamber of commerce, in a small town, the author understands the importance of small businesses to local communities. Our customers are our neighbors, families and friends. Our customers are loyal even in the face of an economic crises. Our small businesses are the lifeblood of local economies, bringing growth and innovation, and providing local employment opportunities. They provide personalized support and great customer service. They are the first to lend a helping hand, supporting local civic and cultural programs, community events, sports teams, churches, charitable events and families in need. They give back in taxes, not just in real estate taxes, but also in sales taxes, used for local government, police and fire department, maintenance, and schools.
While not often mentioned, small businesses improve property values throughout the community. A successful and popular business attracts several customers from out of town and many towns host large community events. As they say, first impressions are lasting and you only have one chance to make a good impression. When prospective home buyers or investors roll into town and see clean, attractive store fronts and successful small businesses, they are more inclined to invest or move into your community. In contrast, if a town has dilapidated and boarded up small businesses, it will be a direct reflection of the town.
While local government cannot provide the same level of financial support as the State and Federal government, they must do more to make a difference for small businesses in their communities. Local governments across the nation have been going above and beyond to keep their small businesses intact. Examples include deferring utility bills to give small businesses time to recover, setting up grants to create a local relief fund, using both local and donated funds, creating opportunities for cross marketing with other small businesses in neighboring communities and establishing partnerships in the community with larger businesses and industry. They have stepped up advertising and marketing local small businesses on town websites and created a central repository of local small businesses, encouraging local small business usage.
The lockdowns and restrictions will do more than damage the economy. Without local government, state and federal support it will devastate local culture across our communities by crushing our small businesses, owned by our friends and neighbors, that make our town a little different than the next. It’s not just livelihoods that are at stake, but our very sense of community. Stay local, buy local is more important now than ever. Our mainstay of support has been our local Chambers of Commerce and loyal customers. They understand our small businesses and stand with us through good and bad times. Federal and State funding support through loans and grants are important, but not enduring. Our small businesses need local government support to make it through this pandemic. Local government support is as important as community, federal and state support–to stay local, they have to support local.