Opinion: Save the economy, support small businesses

Brian Calley

Small businesses account for about half of all jobs in Michigan. But their impact is way larger than that. They are integrated into every aspect of the communities they live and work within. Entrepreneurs tend to be givers; sponsoring, building, helping and doing whatever is required to make their community — their home — stronger. But now they need our help.

Here are a few asks:

Buy local. It’s something many of us can do. Restaurants are closed by mandate of the government, except for carry out. So please get carry out. Make a big deal about it on social media. Remind your friends and family of the options by making and creating a top 10 list of the best burgers in town. Be creative. Become a promoter. And tip a little more because traffic is way down.

Kennedy's Irish Pub manager Michael Meilak brings out a carry out order to Keith Simpson of White Lake, "Just trying to support, I work in restaurants too, Mr. Simpson said.  It's one of those things, it's a tough time and very tough for restaurants right now."

When you buy online, still find local stores to buy from. Get gift certificates for places you want to visit when this crisis is over. This pandemic is going to result in so many people losing their jobs. If you’re fortunate enough to still have yours, please consider going out of your way to patronize local businesses.

The next ask is for state and federal governments:

Small business owners love and care for their employees. Many are like family; actually, some literally are family. They will do what they can during these impossibly difficult times, but many business owners are facing complete and total financial ruin through no fault of their own. They can’t be the social safety net right now. Adding mandates on them at a time when their businesses are being decimated will lead to more closures and layoffs. Help employees at risk of losing their jobs, yes. But don’t do it by pretending the owner of business that is hanging by a thread has unlimited resources. Business owners need help too.

We need to think outside the conventional responses to economic downturns. The sudden, complete and sustained drop-in economic activity in front of us is unlike anything that has happened in most of our lifetimes. And there is not much time to save small businesses. So here’s what the Small Business Association of Michigan wants the state to consider:

The state should use the Business Interruption Insurance system to distribute relief. This insurance covers economic losses when a business experiences a disaster — like a flood or a fire. Many businesses have this coverage, but those policies do not cover pandemics or closures mandated by government.

However, there is an infrastructure that assesses actual businesses losses with a well-established, objective criteria. The state should use that system to cover claims, paid for by the Michigan Strategic Fund, for small businesses who have been forced to close or scale back under government orders. It’s fair, it could be activated quickly, and it would be a lifesaver for small businesses. SBAM is encouraging the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to consider this proposal with urgency. The future of Michigan small businesses relies upon it. 

To all the small business owners out there, we know what a devastating time this is for your business and your livelihood. SBAM is doing everything we can to ease the burden and find a path forward in these unprecedented times. This is an impossible situation but we also know that you will work hard to persevere. Small businesses are essential and the only way we will get through this is together.  

Brian Calley is president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.