More than 100,000 small businesses have shut permanently since the pandemic escalated in March, according to a study by researchers at University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and University of Chicago.
And sadly, there is no end in sight.
That is why it is more important than ever to support local businesses.
I could be describing America’s Great Depression of the 1930s, but unfortunately I am describing America in 2020. For generations, small business defined America’s economy. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be changing that -possibly forever.
Small business has defined Southwestern Pennsylvania’s economy over the course of my 60 years. My professional life was at Chester Engineers, a small – 300 employees – by market standards, Pittsburgh engineering firm.
Chester Engineers thrived in a market crowded with the largest engineering firms in the world for more than 100 years by focusing on community.
While the big firms were focused on projects, Chester focused on the local and regional impacts of our work. We located our offices on Main Street, including one in Charleroi, for a reason.
Our work was critical in building local economies.
This local mindset allowed us to operate successfully across the country. Chester Engineers is now owned by a large Canadian firm. The quality service remains, but the local connection is gone.
Removing the word “local” from business will have devastating consequences for our region. In towns like California, Charleroi, Monongahela and North Belle Vernon, whose Main Streets are hanging on, losing one is bad enough, but it will have a domino effect and more will surely follow. These businesses, once gone, will be nearly impossible to replace, especially in an already distressed area like the Mon Valley.
Our small, local businesses cannot survive with no income coming in for weeks followed by reopening at a quarter of capacity. Losing one or two small businesses will create a ripple effect in our small towns where small shops and restaurants remain the lifeblood of Main Street.
These entrepreneurs support and often depend on each other. These businesses are our best asset. They will help us attract more businesses to our communities.
I was talking with Mike Coury, owner of the River House Cafe in Charleroi a few days ago about the untapped potential of McKean Avenue in the community. When he looks at McKean Avenue, he sees its potential to be a smaller version of Carson Street in Pittsburgh. There is some blight, but more importantly there are nearly a dozen vacant storefronts that could be home to nearly a dozen new businesses.
This is the kind of investment our communities need.
But if our existing business cannot survive, new community investment is not forthcoming. We do not want to become another negative statistic. Drive by the big box stores and national chain restaurants and support our local businesses. You are not just saving jobs and preserving livelihoods. You are investing in the future of the Mon Valley and our entire region.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.