The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
Around the second week of July, Milwaukee began experiencing a surge in the number of Covid-19-related cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
Two weeks later, my husband and I decided to close the doors of our six-year-old business, Bounce Milwaukee, for a second time. For how long, we do not know.
Bounce Milwaukee has an inflatable sports arena, arcade, climbing wall and more, and is fueled by a menu of loaded tots and solar-powered pizza. It was the fulfilment of both our long-time entrepreneurial desires—and definitely upped our coolness factor among our five children.
Shutting our doors again could not have been a more saddening experience. Our remaining five employees (down from 20 before the pandemic hit) had to be furloughed during this historic economic collapse. Not that we didn’t try every alternative to shuttering. We shifted to a pickup and delivery model for our pizza. We offered drive-in movie nights. We took out a Paycheck Protection Program loan. We got an emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
But with cases rising, safety measures becoming politicized and no national leadership on how to stay open safely, we felt the health risks to our employees and ourselves were simply too great to carry on. Ultimately, we decided we would rather be proactive than reactive in caring for our workers and community. We’re fortunate to be able to make that call. The small business aid we’ve received allows us to close and offer our employees severance. Yet, we are also taking on debt, which, as the pandemic drags on with no end in sight, is becoming more and more worrisome.
I know legions of other small business owners around the state and country are in the same no-win situation—trying to do everything right to stay in business long enough to ride this out but facing the growing certainty that we have a long-term problem and no long-term solutions from our leaders. According to a recent Small Business for America’s Future survey, 80% of small business owners think Covid-19 will disrupt business operations for all of 2020 or longer. But so far Washington, D.C. has only delivered short-term fixes.
The fallout of these ongoing disruptions is accelerating, and it’s heartbreaking for the future of our Main Streets. A recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that between February and May of 2020, the number of active business owners in the United States fell from 15 million to 12.8 million, a 15% decline in just three months. Last month, Yelp reported that 55% of businesses listed as closed on its platform have closed for good.
This is a tragedy in the making for small business owners and the economy as a whole. Some 99% of all U.S. businesses—30 million—are small businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. Collectively, we account for 44% of all economic activity. We also are the nation’s most potent job creators, a fact that is often overlooked and underappreciated. Small businesses employ 59 million people, nearly 48% of the country’s workforce. And, historically, we have been pivotal in driving economic recovery: nearly two-thirds of new jobs were created by small businesses following the Great Recession.
So, while my husband and I wait for the pandemic to abate to reopen our business, we will not wait in urging Congress and the Trump administration to pass legislation that meets the moment. For small business owners, that means loan forgiveness for PPP loans and a new round of aid that helps us survive. For our unemployed workers, that means continuing the enhanced unemployment benefits. For everyone, it means another round of stimulus checks.
And above all, it means a coordinated national plan to contain the virus, because fighting the virus is fighting for economic recovery. It’s the only way we can keep the economy from collapsing.
According to that same Small Business for America’s Future survey, a majority of small business owners agree. The national survey found that 56% of Main Street entrepreneurs support extending enhanced unemployment benefits. And 66% say that a national plan for opening safely would give them a better chance at long-term survival.
I don’t want to lose my business permanently. I don’t want to lose my employees permanently. I don’t want to lose a rejuvenating Milwaukee to federal indecision—or indifference. We need our leaders to lead. Now.
– Cooper is the owner of Bounce Milwaukee. Column provided by American Forum.