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Front Page » Opinion » Recovery drive needs to focus on reopening Main Street

Recovery drive needs to focus on reopening Main Street

Written by on April 28, 2020
Recovery drive needs to focus on reopening Main Street

What if Main Street – every Main Street – stays mostly closed?

Federal aid geared to battle the pandemic-induced shutdown of Main Street stores and their small-business cousins in all categories seems to have reached every company you know, from Auto Nation to big hotel chains to Shake Shack. 

But the money hasn’t yet reached the target, most small businesses – unless you count national brands as small business. Someone in Washington was doing just that.

Well, Shake Shack must be on some Main Streets. But so are the local guys, the mom and pop small businesses that are still waiting for vital funds to survive.

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva hit the mark when he said last week that the state’s big players (he named them) will survive, but how about small businesses?

Small businesses can’t hold out. Even if they get federal PPP aid created to sustain them for two months and the loans are eventually forgiven, what happens when trade doesn’t immediately bounce back? They don’t have the funds to survive a slow return.

Any one small business failure harms its employees and its owner and leaves a gap in its community’s Main Street. But what will keep all the Main Streets in this nation from closings and one closed ownership from becoming tens of thousands, with millions of employees losing jobs, getting unemployment aid and eventually needing government services to survive?

We need to get to these businesses before that happens, first with the two-month rescue lifeline that the federal loan program envisions, and then with future plans to keep small businesses operating.

Face it: even if the entire nation were to totally remove virus-induced restrictions, trade wouldn’t roar back to life in a week or a month. 

We all know that a business should have months of cash reserves that would help it survive in a recovering world. But small businesses seldom have such reserves.

In the classic Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” banker Jimmy Stewart dreams of a whole town crumbling because his savings and loan wasn’t there to prop it up when cash was tight. So what happens to us when there is no economic foundation under our Main Streets?

It’s not normally government’s role to prop up business. It just collects taxes to provide the services that keep the nation going. 

But in the pandemic it was government that shut business down – correctly, but still government did it. Now it’s going to have to get our Main Streets going again.

The two-month PPP loan isn’t going to do it all because reopening will be gradual, but business isn’t built to operate at a 30% or 50% level and survive. And we won’t go from zero to 60 in ten seconds.

That’s a simple overview. But recovery will be highly complex. There are no easy answers. 

That’s why locally we need a full-blown recovery team, the equivalent of the We Will Rebuild team after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that helped Miami-Dade get back to normal over several years. That will take powerful leaders with vision to step forward. We await that team. It will take a holistic economic outlook, with business leading the charge.

Every local government now seems to have a team, and civic groups have internal efforts. All will help. We thank you.

But without a task force run by the top of the business and civic community, efforts will remain fragmented.  

Gov. Ron DeSantis has a big recovery think tank, but the only small business voice is the owner of a restaurant down the street from his office. It’s unrealistic to think Florida’s biggest industries are going to focus on a Main Street recovery.

Recovery needs a united local effort. But it’s also a national issue, because that’s where the money to fund recovery is printed. We’ll have to do the unthinkable and keep the money presses rolling until a significant portion of Main Street can stand on its own.

We know businesses will fail. Small business is tenuous. But it’s also the backbone of the US, and Florida, and Miami. If a significant share of small business dies, Miami is crippled.

Customer demand will be spotty as we pull out of a long downturn. Governments must find a way to take up a large slice of the slack.

Small business takes every shape, from manufacturing to office jobs. But the easy gauge of recovery will be a drive down all the Main Streets of Miami-Dade to see what percentage of storefronts are open, and how many can stay open.  

Government isn’t responsible for keeping every small business open. Some would-be entrepreneurs shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

But if, say, 85% of small businesses normally run well, then 85% need to be back up and running for government’s role to revert from supporting business to again being a tax collector.

Until then, get the funds flowing down Main Street pronto.