Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Owning and operating any kind of small business requires a degree of risk taking, faith and optimism that many people are unwilling to assume. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, nearly 48 percent of all jobs in the private sector are small businesses, defined as anywhere from one to 499 employees. Additionally, 61 percent of newly created jobs in our country come from these same businesspeople.
Generally, about 20 percent of small businesses close within one year of opening. Add the COVID-19 pandemic on top of that, and owning a business has rarely been more precarious. A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that as many as four million small businesses could be lost entirely in 2020.
With this current situation so threatening, we in Tazewell County were grateful to learn that Governor Pritzker set aside $20 million for a Downstate Small Business Stabilization fund. These funds were made available for “non-essential” small businesses that were forced to close their doors during Phase 1 and 2 of his pandemic plans. Fortunately, with the outstanding help of our local chambers of commerce, Tazewell County had many businesses that met the criteria and now have up to $25,000 in help on the way.
Restaurants, hair salons, jewelers and many other small stores applied for the funding and were approved. These grants will help keep them in business now that we are in Phase 3 and they can reopen. But there were also numerous small businesses that were either deemed “essential” or did not meet the criteria and were denied funds. Additionally, because the City of Pekin receives dollars directly from the U.S. government, businesses within their city limits were not allowed to apply. A second round of applications was taken, and we are currently awaiting word from Springfield to see who qualified.
This program, combined with the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP), extended a lifeline to many businesses by allowing them to make payroll and remain in business. These businesses also help support the many necessary services we provide in Tazewell County through income and sales taxes. Without these tax contributions, we could see major cuts in essential services, including law enforcement and road maintenance, as well as longer lines for services.
Finally, businesses that do reopen face additional costs in accommodating their customers’ safety. Face masks, plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer and frequent deep cleanings of public areas have placed added pressure on the bottom line. Tazewell County government is now incurring the same costs, in addition to having staff at each door to take the temperature of employees and members of the public entering our buildings.
Although I personally believe that government has a limited role to play in our lives, it is gratifying to see governments taking creative measures to ensure the survival of our small businesses. I would like to personally thank all of the business owners in Tazewell County who follow their dreams—and hopefully reap the rewards for keeping their businesses open and serving the needs of those around them. PM