2020 witnessed small businesses across the country struggling to adapt and survive during the government-imposed pandemic lockdowns. And while some were able to pivot their services and business model to serve an increasingly digital market, many were forced to shut down for good, leaving thousands jobless.
The closure of these businesses is one of this year’s biggest tragedies. The economic impact of these closures will continue to be felt for many years to come. If we have collectively learned anything this year, it’s that America relies on small business entrepreneurship to flourish and prosper.
Entrepreneurship is empowerment
Nowhere is the empowering potential of small business entrepreneurship more prominent than in our small-town Main Streets and local communities. Even through the pandemic, we’ve seen small businesses all across the country step up and change the way they operate in order to help their communities. Via a quick search around the internet, you can find dozens of examples of small businesses doing their part: from local pharmacies doing Covid testing to distilleries manufacturing hand sanitizer and restaurants providing free meals.
These entrepreneurs and workers were faced with an existential crisis like they’ve never seen before. Their response? Do good for the community. There’s something about small businesses that is just so inspiring.
Ultimately, entrepreneurship is the backbone of these communities, and provides both residents and the local economy the opportunity to grow as these businesses grow. What’s more, entrepreneurship is not just for the rich, it is for everyone. Building a business from the ground up is no small feat, but it is something that’s achievable by anyone, regardless of background. Through entrepreneurship, people can pull themselves up and bring new economic value to their communities and to themselves.
The potential of Entrepreneur Zones
Heading into 2021, we need to place a renewed focus on encouraging entrepreneurship in our small towns and cities. The key to this could be Entrepreneur Zones – targeted areas within economically-distressed communities where new entrepreneurship-focused initiatives can help local business get their start, and help those that have already started to thrive. Policy initiatives can include relaxed regulations, tax incentives to encourage investors, focused education and training, and the kinds of mentoring and interconnection that help businesses integrate into larger value-creation ecosystems.
Dale G. Caldwell of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship notes, “To accelerate small business employment, government could provide entrepreneur grants and issue small business bonds through the Small Business Administration specifically for the businesses in federally approved entrepreneur zones. These programs would not be a burden on taxpayers and potentially lead to an injection of billions of dollars into businesses…that desperately need a lifeline to survive.”
As more than 11 million people look for new opportunities, these small businesses could help provide the jobs needed to both keep food on the table for struggling families and spur economic growth at the national level.
Further, many in the growing pool of unemployed Americans are skilled workers who have been through the training and education for their jobs. The talent is there, what is needed is the capital to invest in these businesses.
The future lies in small businesses
We’re dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, and we need to work to establish apolitical policies that support our nation’s small businesses. Nearly 50% of America’s GDP output and nearly 50% of all American workers are employed by small businesses. It’s time that we began to recognize and reciprocate the values and utility that small businesses provide to this country.
And it’s not just local, it’s global. For example, Scott Livengood of Arizona State University is part of a team offering Education For Humanity – a program of education, and entrepreneurial skill training for conflict-displaced refugees in countries like Uganda and Lebanon. Entrepreneurship provides a pathway out of not only America’s distressed inner cities, but out of distressed environments of all kinds, all over the world. Over the past half-century, we’ve seen that entrepreneurial and educational expansion into underdeveloped regions and markets is one of the best ways to raise people out of poverty and equip them with the skills and resources they need to prosper.
Across the world, we see just how important creating avenues for entrepreneurship is to keeping economics vibrant and resilient. In 2021, one of our top economic priorities should be to create more of these avenues.