By Perry Hooper, Jr.
With so much news to absorb in recent months, it has been easy to overlook the continuing small business crisis in our state. While we have been preoccupied by the mounting coronavirus cases and deaths, soaring unemployment, unprecedented political turmoil, thousands of Alabama small businesses have been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. This is not their fault. They were ordered to close their doors. These businesses employ more than half of all Alabamians and are major drivers of our economy. The stock market may be soaring near all-time highs, but this does not reflect the suffering that remains on main street. Most of us are back at work, but things are not normal. Not even close. Millions of dollars were lent to Alabama businesses through the Payroll Protective Program. However, it ended months ago, and it was nowhere near enough. According to the Wall Street Journal, nationwide 300 companies who received 500 million in PPP loans have filed for bankruptcy.
Even after reopening, Retail, Restaurants and other service businesses still operate under severe restrictions as the virus continues to spread. Many Alabama small businesses — many family owned and operated for generations — have closed never to reopen. The pandemic has lasted longer than most all projections resulting in dire circumstances for most small businesses. In Alabama, the Food Service Industry is taking a devastating hit according to statistics provided by Mindy Hannon, Executive Director of the Alabama Hospitality Association. The Industry employs 211,800 Alabamians representing 10% of all employment in the state with annual sales of $9.8 billion. In April alone, the Industry lost a staggering $585 million in sales that they will never recover. 76% of food service operators have made layoffs or furlough representing 114,000 neighbors who work in this industry. 69% of all Restaurant operators say that it is unlikely that they will be profitable in six months. Worst of all, an almost unbelievable 68% say that it is unlikely that they will still be in business in 6 months without an additional relief package. I am the last person, who in normal times, would be calling for Government stimulus packages, but these are extraordinary times. Our leaders in Washington must immediately come together and pass a responsible targeted bill to help our small businesses.
While we wait on Washington to help our Alabama businesses, it is time for all of us to be good neighbors and do our part. We must go out of our way to support our locally owned small businesses. When possible, forgo ordering online and mask up and visit a local business. Instead of the drive thru at a fast-food chain, pick up or have delivered food from a local restaurant.
The governors of many states are making moves towards another lockdown which would be devastating to their small businesses, overall economy, and the wellbeing of their citizens. I commend Governor Kay Ivey for her support of small businesses. She has announced her support of the Keep Alabama Open Initiative led by CEO and President of the Business Council of Alabama Katie Britt The campaign also has the support of several entities, such as the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, National Federation of Independent Business, Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association, and Alabama Retail Association. Governor Ivey has also released $200 million in additional funding for Alabama small businesses. Revive Alabama will give Alabama businesses that have less than 50 employees up to $20,000 in grants for expenses they have incurred because of the pandemic.
As Governor Ivey has stated many times: ”You cannot have a life without a livelihood.” We are all in this together, and we can survive this crisis by working together.
Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a former State Representative, is on the Republican State Executive Committee and is a Trump Victory National Finance Committee Member.