OPINION: Survey finds pandemic affects 76% of small businesses; you can help

Mary Alford/The Kentucky Gazette
By Tom Underwood, guest contributor

Congress on March 27 passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package to help small business owners and employees and others affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but this federal aid could take weeks to arrive, and small businesses need financial relief today.

Fortunately, there are simple things we can do to help Kentucky’s small businesses weather this storm:

  • Go through a drive-thru, pick up a meal, or have meals delivered. Social distancing means we shouldn’t eat out, but many restaurants are keeping their kitchens open so customers can pick up food or have it delivered.
  • Shop local businesses online. Many businesses are closed because of the coronavirus, but their websites are up, and many businesses are still taking orders and delivering the goods and services their customers need as safely as possible.
  • Order gift certificates to local shops and restaurants. Buy them today and spend them in a few weeks, once things get back to normal.

Going through a drive-thru or buying a gift certificate doesn’t sound dramatic, but it could make a big difference to small businesses right now.

When my association, the National Federation of Independent Business, surveyed its members earlier this month, it found that 76 percent of America’s small businesses had already been affected in some way by the coronavirus. Fifty-four percent said they’d seen a drop in sales, while 23 percent said the coronavirus had caused disruptions in their supply chain.

Since the survey was released on Monday, March 23, more states and communities have advised people to shelter in place to avoid contracting or spreading the highly contagious virus, so the number of small businesses feeling the impact of the outbreak has almost certainly increased.

That’s why we need to help local businesses stay in business.

Some people lump all businesses together, but small businesses aren’t like big corporations. Small business owners aren’t sitting on piles of cash to get them through troubled times. Small businesses typically operate on thin margins, so closing their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19 could easily result in them closing their doors for good.

And that would be a shame because Kentucky’s economy is built on its small businesses.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 99.3 percent of all businesses in the commonwealth. These businesses aren’t owned by some faceless corporation based someplace else. They’re owned by – and employ – our families and friends and neighbors.

Small businesses create jobs, give money to local charities, and buy ads in our children’s high school yearbooks. Small businesses are what bind our communities together, and we can’t afford to lose them.

By doing what we can to support local businesses, we can reduce the impact the outbreak is having on their bottom lines – and on our communities. And that’s important because when we help small businesses, we help everybody.

Tom Underwood is the Kentucky state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. He is based in Louisville.