Social distancing may be necessary right now, but it’s taking a toll on small businesses.
State-specific numbers aren’t available, but I am the Arkansas director of the National Federation of Independent Business, and a recent NFIB survey found that 92% of the nation’s small business owners reported being impacted in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the survey, 80% were experiencing slower sales, while 31% said the coronavirus has affected their supply chain, and 23% reported being concerned about sick employees.
This troubles me, because small business is the heart and soul of Arkansas’ economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small firms account for 99.3% of Arkansas businesses and they employ about 47% of the state’s workforce.
Here in Arkansas, some shops have closed their doors, hopefully temporarily. Many of the small manufacturers I have talked to are facing closure because they have no access to the masks, disposable gloves, and disinfectants they need to protect their workforce.
Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The economic stimulus package will help ease the economic strain caused by the coronavirus by providing cash flow and liquidity to small businesses here in Arkansas and nationwide.
But that’s only the start of the process. While the CARES Act will distribute $350 billion to businesses nationwide, most applicants have reported confusion and delays are slowing the process. Arkansas’ small businesses need relief now.
As an Arkansan, I am proud of the work Gov. Asa Hutchinson has done to mandate social distancing while doing everything he can to keep our state open for business. He and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have each contributed several million dollars to a quick action loan fund for small businesses. Hopefully, small business owners are applying for these funds.
But we don’t need to rely solely on our elected leaders to help small businesses. Each and every one of us can make a difference, too:
- Go through a drive-thru or get takeout or deliver. Restaurant dining rooms may be closed, but their kitchens are open, and please remember to tip your delivery driver.
- Shop small online. Local stores may be closed, but their websites are up, and many are still taking and filling orders.
- Buy gift cards or gift certificates to locally-owned shops and restaurants. Purchase them online or over the phone and spend them once the outbreak is over.
- Seek out the opportunity to support service-based firms by using social media and other technology platforms to promote them and or access their services remotely.
Small business, after all, is the engine that drives Arkansas’ economy. Unlike chain stores and restaurants, which may be owned by big corporations based someplace else, small businesses are owned by our family, friends, and neighbors. They create jobs, and they support our communities, buying ads in high school yearbooks, donating to local charities and civic groups, and putting their names on the backs of our children’s soccer jerseys.
Small businesses do a lot to help our communities. It’s time our communities returned the favor and helped small businesses. Small business owners are determined to get through this, and they’re ready to deliver the goods and services their customers need while following the rules and keeping everyone as safe and secure as possible.
Supporting local stores and restaurants now will lessen the impact this outbreak is having on our communities. It will help save jobs and make the local economy stronger because when we help small businesses, we help everybody.
Editor’s note: Sylvester Smith is the Arkansas state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. The opinions expressed are those of the author.