Support small businesses in Phase Two

Published 10:54 am Friday, November 27, 2020

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For 10 years now, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been known as Small Business Saturday, a time designated for shoppers to go out and support the mom-and-pop retailers, the local employers who serve as the heart of their community’s economy. But in 2020, as with so many other things, Small Business Saturday takes on a new tone and importance. This year, Small Business Saturday is just as much about pure economic survival as it is about doing the right thing.

Pick any small business in any year and you’ll find a story packed with challenges, innovation, hard work, razor-thin margins and perseverance. Small business owners routinely suffer sleepless nights over financial uncertainty, operational disruption, personnel issues or just making payroll. I know this not only through research and work experiences, but also by simply watching one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs I know go through it every day.

My wife Colleen, relying on a tenacious work ethic and smart planning, took a great idea from our kitchen table to a thriving small business, celebrating her five-year anniversary this year as a business owner. Throughout that march, I have been simply amazed at how many long days she has put in, obstacles she has overcome and creative ideas she has generated. All of that and more has been needed to get to this point, a common narrative I hear from small business owners across Louisiana. Small business entrepreneurs like her face tremendous daily challenges in terms of regulation, taxation, supply chain disruptions, workforce needs, etc. and cannot simply rely on an army of accountants and lawyers to overcome them. Small business owners must get their hands dirty and be a “jack-of-all-trades” to make that business work. Thank God these determined entrepreneurs don’t have the word “quit” in their vocabulary.

On top of the everyday headwinds faced by small business owners, COVID-19 has forced closures, imposed many new guidelines and pushed small business owners to grapple with circumstances that would have been unthinkable just a year ago. Then add five hurricanes making landfall in Louisiana, one of them the strongest in our state’s history, and the hurdles of 2020 can become downright insurmountable for far too many.

The governor has recently announced he is shifting the state’s economy back to Phase Two for at least the next month, while also signaling more economic retraction is still on the table. Considering the holidays are typically a time where most small businesses depend on heavy customer spending, the timing could not be more economically challenging.

Louisiana had close to 450,000 small businesses before COVID-19 struck, employing more than 900,000 of our neighbors. The end of 2020 will likely see those numbers shrink. And for our entrepreneurs whose business models depend on tourism, festivals, football and our now-cancelled Mardi Gras for income, not to mention the caterers, print shops, suppliers and more who service industrial partners that have shuttered or scaled back production since the changes to the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), those concerning numbers may continue to drop in the coming year.

Roughly 99 percent of all Louisiana businesses are small businesses. They are certainly the major driver for Louisiana’s economy, creating two out of every three jobs in our state. Without them, our communities will not be able to bounce back from this year’s economic decline. We need them, and they need us.

Think about that local store you turn to for a special Christmas gift every year … the artisan or craftsman who makes that unique product you’ve come to rely on … the restaurant that is your family’s go-to spot to celebrate a birthday, graduation or engagement … you know the people who own them, and you have seen their contributions to your community throughout the years.

Let’s give Small Business Saturday, and the weeks to come, a renewed and elevated focus. Let us recalibrate our habits, be intentional, and make an extra effort to “shop small” and give that revenue to a local business, keep that investment in your own community. While the pandemic response will surely incentivize many to shop online this holiday season, that does not mean small business should be left out in the cold. Most local small businesses have an online presence and can offer just as good of a deal as the national chains if you just give them a shot.

Go out of your way to help them.

Throughout this pandemic, we have learned how to change the way we shop, how we educate our children, how we access health care and how we gather. Our small businesses have made changes as well, from PPE to curbside pickup to closed dressing rooms and spaced out shelves — they know how to do business safely, and we know how to do business with them. Let’s shop small — on Small Business Saturday, and as we continue to combat this pandemic and fight to keep our economy up and running.

Small business entrepreneurs are inspiring, dependable and trustworthy. They have been there for us time and time again, let’s now return that favor by being there for them when they desperately need it. Give them your support this holiday season by giving them your business.

Stephen Waguespack is the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).