David Dunn-Rankin

David Dunn-Rankin

Small business employs 60 million Americans. That’s five times as many jobs as our manufacturing sector; four times as big as the healthcare industry; more than two times bigger than all the Federal, state and local employees combined. Put a different way, small business employs about half of all the private sector employees in America.

Residential neighborhoods surrounding a strong independent business district, filled with locally owned business, see 50% more appreciation in their homes than neighborhoods without the strong local business district.

In order for cool communities with personality to exist, it is essential to have cool local businesses with personality. While I happen to love Olive Garden, who wants to say to their guests from New York, “Hey we’ve got this great little Italian restaurant I’d like to take you to … The Olive Garden.”

Letting our small business suffocate has a multiplier effect. Look at our chambers of commerce. They are filled with locally owned insurance agents, accountants, lawyers and other service firms who want to sell their services to our vibrant local business district owners. Without local businesses, what will those service firms do? Sell accounting services to Target? Sell your legal services in small town Florida to Walmart? Chambers of commerce, help us fight for small business.

When local businesses suffer, they stop paying rent. Landlords stop paying banks. If 20-30% of our retail storefronts go dark, does anyone not understand we will have a banking crisis too?

The heart of our communities is being destroyed by this shutdown. The big chains are allowed to be wide open. Michaels, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Walmart, JoAnn Fabrics and nationally owned construction firms are still in full swing.

We are going to create ghost towns in our downtowns with this terrible policy of a hard shutdown that applies hardest to our locally owned businesses. The economic destruction will be devastating right in our front yards.

Here’s what we should do: If a consumer can buy clothes and shoes at Walmart, then the locally owned shoe and clothing store should be open too. Or, just close all the nonessential goods at Walmart so everyone is treated the same. Why can we go to Home Depot to do spring gardening (nonessential) but not go the park for a walk?

The quibbling above reveals the heart of the issue. Why not give our most vulnerable, the small business, the benefit of the doubt? Do we value the big chains over a local business run by a husband, wife and two daughters? I know my answer.

We should figure out what social separation means in retail. I’m don’t know for sure how, but a rule that says no more than one customer in a business per 1,000 feet would treat all businesses the same and allow small business to be treated just like the big chains. It might also be the path forward from this crisis. Gov. Ron DeSantis, we need your plan. Where is it?

At D-R Media, I admit we are biased in favor of small business and what small businesses do for the character of our small towns. What small businesses make in profit in our town, stays in our town. Where does the profits of the big chains go?

Right now, we need a plan to save our small business downtowns in each of our cities. Gov. DeSantis is silent on our way out of the desert, leaving small business to slowly wither and die without any idea of their future. It’s shameful for a governor to support Target being open over a local business.

Our mayors, city council members and county commissioners are frozen. They don’t know what to do as they watch years of careful nourishment of our downtowns and business highways get washed away like a sandcastle on the beach from the coronavirus wave.

Here’s what you can do if you are a local official: You may not know Gov. DeSantis, but you probably know somebody who does. Write him a letter and have it delivered to him. We all agree on social distancing, but it is time to treat our locally owned businesses the same as we are treating the national chains before our downtowns become ghost towns. If anything, our friends and neighbors deserve more consideration than a national chain.

Write Sen. Rubio and Sen. Scott and your local congressional representative. You know someone who knows them and can make sure your message is delivered. Eight weeks is not enough for the payroll protection funds. Does anyone really think this will be over in eight weeks and we will back to normal? Apparently, your Congressman and U.S. Senators do.

If we want to have any chance of our local merchants surviving, we need eight more weeks of the payroll protection funds, for a total of 16 weeks. Treat small business the same way we are treating individual unemployment – 16 weeks of payroll support. If small business gets the money and pays employees for 16 weeks, it’s the same amount of money as would have been paid out in unemployment. The only difference is if the small business pays employees for 16 weeks, instead of having them on unemployment, there will be a business to come back to on Aug. 1.

When you write the folks in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. – the ones who hold our future in their hands – copy us and we will publish what you write in our paper. In the communities D-R Media serves, 50-60% of the employment is in small businesses. Join us in this crusade to fight for our local merchants – before it is too late.

 At D-R Media, we are attempting to give away $1 million in free, no-strings-attached local advertising to local merchants by April 15. If you own a local business, please email me at David@D-R.Media with your ideas on what we should consider doing after April 15 to help.