A meme that popped up recently on Facebook and instantly went viral reads, “I don’t want a stimulus check. I want my friend’s business to survive. How many of you will share this?”
The meme meant well by highlighting the current plight of small businesses that are shut down or limited in their operations by the coronavirus restrictions — and are facing financial ruin.
But the message was also somewhat disingenuous. Instead of saying “no” to a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury (which no one is going to do anyway), why not consider dedicating at least some of that money to helping small businesses?
Even if most of the affected small businesses have not reopened yet, perhaps we could hold some of that stimulus money until they do, so we could spend it as the government actually intended — to stimulate the stalled economy.
There are even ways we could use some of that money right now to help small businesses hang on until they can get their doors open again. For instance, consider buying gift cards now, if possible, for use later.
That puts needed cash into the hands of small business operators sooner rather than later, helping them to pay fixed expenses such as rent and utilities that don’t go away just because their doors are closed.
Either way, dedicating at least some of our stimulus money to our small businesses makes sense. That’s because, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, America’s more than 30 million small businesses — defined as those with fewer than 500 employees — provide at least half of all jobs in the nation.
Small business owners and employees are our friends and neighbors. Even if we’re not personally running or working in a small business, we know plenty of people who are, and many of them are hurting right now. Most have way fewer than 500 employees; some are much smaller.
We might even consider donating some of our own stimulus money to a new fund created last month whose goal is to offer support to local businesses throughout Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a recent story by Tim Dodson in the Washington County News, the Local Business Recovery Fund has been established to raise money to “provide grants to businesses in sectors like arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services, retail trade and manufacturing.”
Regional business groups, companies and economic development leaders announced the initiative in late April.
According to the story, to be eligible for aid from the fund, “a business needs to be located in one of the following localities: Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi or Washington counties in Tennessee or Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise counties in Virginia, along with the independent cities of Bristol and Norton.”
Also, the applicant must have been business for at least a year and have no more than 50 employees.
Grant applications can be submitted online at RegionAHEAD.com, the newspaper noted. Each application will be reviewed by a committee that includes regional economic development representatives, educators, health care professionals, a banker and a certified public accountant, according to a news release detailing the effort.
Not eligible for money from the fund will be such expenses as capital funding projects or purchases of vehicles. Details about what’s allowed or not are posted on the website. The emphasis will be on helping businesses with everyday expenses such as rent and payroll.
Of course, as with any voluntary initiative that depends on fundraising, the amount of money available to help affected small businesses will depend on how much can be raised from donors, including individuals, as well as other businesses and industries, according to Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Tennessee-Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
“The amount that we will be able to give to small businesses relies on how much consumers and other businesses are willing to give,” she said.
Small businesses argue that they need a break right now.
“The Walmarts of the world and the Starbucks of the world, they will survive, they will be there,” said Reid Burton, owner of Braeden’s BBQ in Kingsport, who joined in a conference call detailing the initiative.
“But these local businesses that help support your T-ball teams and your school projects and stuff like that, that’s the ones that need a favor right now, and that’s the ones that are hurting and trying to stay alive.”
Now is the time to step up and do what we can — all of us — to help our small business friends and neighbors in need.
Make no mistake about it: The economic survival of our community is tied to the health of our small businesses.