Over the last two months CAMEO has hosted regional meetings for our members with state legislators and their staff in Central Coast, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. In addition to the excitement of seeing most everyone in person, these meetings have been fruitful, allowing small business owners and providers to develop relationships with their legislators and talk to them about what they can do to continue to support small business recovery post-pandemic.
What Small Businesses Told Us About Their Challenges During the Pandemic
Small businesses suffered when COVID-19 lockdowns were announced in California on March 19, 2020. Small businesses that did business in person suddenly had to close their businesses or move online. Lockdowns in California prevented them from selling goods such as food, jewelry, and clothes in person. Gone was the practice of sampling tasty treats at farmers markets and stores. Violet Irigo, owner of Tata Raw Treats in Sacramento, shifted from selling her walnut snacks at county fairs to selling online.
Small business owners struggled with commercial rents. Not every business owner had landlords that were able to cut them breaks or give rent forgiveness. Thomas Thai, owner of Thai Martial Arts in Southern California, was lucky to have a landlord that worked with him during the pandemic, forgave some rent, and gave Thomas time to come up with the full monthly rent. Thomas turned to the Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center for grant and loan assistance and his landlord waited until Thomas received grants to pay back rent. Some of his friends were not so lucky and didn’t have landlords willing to work with them and were evicted after the commercial rent moratorium was lifted The state legislature tried to pass commercial rent protections and provide rental assistance to landlords who would work with their tenants, but that never materialized.
Access to capital was and remains an issue, especially for BIPOC entrepreneurs. Many small businesses that didn’t have a good relationship with their bank had difficulty accessing small business assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Luckily, many small businesses turned to CAMEO members such as the El Pajaro Community Development Center, Alchemist Community Development Corporation, Accessity, or the Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center to help them access grants and loans to continue to operate their business.
What Small Businesses Told Us About Their Current Challenges and Unfulfilled Needs
Many small businesses struggled to hire and retain employees as many people dealt with child care issues, illness and other workforce concerns. Child care programs are needed to help employees return to work. Another policy suggestion was to offer carrots for maintaining a job for a few years such as tax credits or stimulus funds.
Supply chain issues continue to hurt small businesses. Timothy Parker, owner of Chula Vista Brewery still struggles to acquire bottling materials. Bottling and packaging have been in short supply since the latter half of 2020, because many factories around the world shut down due to lockdowns. He has gone from one bottling supplier pre-pandemic to having multiple suppliers to meet his needs. While state and federal legislators have taken action on supply chain issues, the problem still persists.
Also inflation and demand for increases in wages are making it harder for small businesses to compete without raising prices. For lenders, inflation means that they are seeing large requests for loans.
One thing was made clear during the pandemic. Small businesses providers like El Pajaro CDC, Alchemist CDC, the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Accesity, Imperial Valley SBDC, Southwestern Community College SBDC, and the other 350 or so CAMEO members are critical to supporting small business owners. When small businesses were struggling with capital access, falling behind on rent, or supply chain issues these community organizations stepped up to help out.
In response to the hard work, the federal government is increasing funding for small business providers, and the California Legislature is poised to add a permanent investment in small business providers in the state budget.
Written by Addison Peterson.