Small businesses are at center of protests and recovery

Small businesses are at center of protests and recovery
OPINION By Mark S. Lee

2020 is reminding me of 1967.

As a youngster in ’67, I can vividly recall images of parts of a major American city, Detroit, being devastated due to a civil disturbance.  Once vibrant streets sat empty for years in the aftermath of the ’67 civil riots on hot, July days.

Empty and hallowed out store fronts remained empty for years before being razed.  Today, there still are empty lots where businesses used to thrive and residents called home.

In 2020, the neighborhood still has not fully recovered.  While there has been pockmarked investment, not all the businesses and residents have returned.

While watching recent protests and destruction in various cities across the country, I’m reminded of ’67 and the eerily similar events which have unfolded.

The confluence of anger, frustration and emotions have erupted into the streets like an uncapped volcano’s wrath.  This wrath is a result of decades and centuries of oppression and the unfortunate death of George Floyd. It unleashed this nation’s fury in cities like it hasn’t been seen since the late ‘60s.

Over the last several days, protests have sprung across the country, including Detroit.  In several cities, non-violent protests have turned violent and in downtown Detroit recently, a protester was fatally shot.  This has an adverse impact and is counter to what was being protested.

Today, the country is in chaos.  A scab has been ripped off the wound and has exposed the deep-rooted pain that’s simply been covered.  The root of the problems has been exposed, but not solved.

We are living in unprecedented times where the divide widens, lack of civility threatens relationships and the inability to make thoughtful decisions based on facts is increasing.

To many, there’s a gap in national leadership.

People are in pain, unemployment rates are approaching depression-era levels, the economy is faltering, and civil disturbances are on the rise.  Additionally, the novel coronavirus continues to spread and civil discourse is rearing its ugly head coast-to-coast.

With this backdrop small businesses, which are economic drivers and job creators, are front and center with store fronts being damaged and destroyed as part of the protests.

Where do we go from here?

It’s time for open and frank dialogue.  Unfortunately, the political divide is deep and stark.  The room for compromise does not exist and appeasing the “base” versus what’s best for the country drives the political agenda.

Two-way dialogue is virtually non-existent, which leads to political debates filled with rancor, divisiveness, personal insults and vendettas. This approach contradicts the true spirit of unity and understanding. It’s time to put the country’s interests first, irrespective of one’s political affiliation.

When confronted with policy and political divide, common values must be discovered and both sides must listen intently to the other side with an open mind and more importantly, an open heart.   We need to understand and accept the fact that the middle ground best suits all citizens.

Conflict is natural and usually inevitable, differences of opinions are human, but lack of civility in conflict resolution is not what made our country great.  Now is the time for people to listen intently to each other.  People of all races, gender, faith-based beliefs, etc. must take the opportunity to listen, learn and engage–with each other.

Community engagement must be a part of this dialogue.  Unfortunately, many feel left out of the process and feel like their voices are not being heard.

When people feel left out, they become apathetic, which leads to disengagement and ultimately frustration.

Demonstrations are powerful and effective when they are focused on the key message, but when violence becomes the story, it overshadows the fact that another African American’s man’s life, George Floyd, ended in a manner that should never have happened. The string of black males dying due to senseless violence seems to be getting longer and never ending.

It shows the inhumane treatment many African Americans have and still experience across the country and people are marching to protest social injustice and inhumane treatment rooted in the country’s history.

Bottom line, free speech is protected under the First Amendment, but committing crimes and destroying and looting property are not.

And unfortunately, the violence and property destruction are hurting small businesses.


Many entrepreneurs invested their life savings, blood sweat and tears into building a legacy for their communities and families while providing jobs and economic value within their neighborhoods.

Now, they’re facing uncertain futures.

Businesses are critically important to local economies and neighborhood development.  They provide employment for residents and services, which are fundamentally needed. The focus needs be on business recovery and sustainability, in underserved communities and beyond.

Coupled with the economic meltdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, America is confronted with unprecedented challenges while small businesses are hurting and fighting for survival – if, they haven’t already been shuttered.  In other words, if the country is sliding into a recession, many small businesses are in a depression.

A recent study by economists at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago projects that more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, The Washington Post reports.

According to the Small Business Roundtable, as part of a co-sponsored study with Facebook, 31 percent of owners and managers reported their business is not currently operating.

Now, throw in the number of business damaged and/or destroyed due to the civil unrest, and you can see how small businesses and the neighborhoods they call home are in precarious times.  These headwinds of crises have changed the one-promising trajectory into an economic tailspin.

Small businesses are big employers.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses account for 99.7 percent of firms with paid employees, and they make up more than one-third of known U.S. exporting value. What’s more, from 2000 to 2017, small businesses accounted for more than 65 percent of net new job creation.

With such a large footprint in the U.S. economy, it’s clear that small businesses are the backbone of America.

Succeeding in a small business is difficult in the best of times.  For example, in a “normal” economy, 50 percent  of small businesses (SBA) will not make it beyond 12 months, while 80 percent (Bloomberg) won’t survive beyond 18 months.

This is no longer a “normal” economy. As a result, many more will struggle, and some will ultimately, fail.

Focusing on business recovery is critical.  Now, is the time to step up and provide additional resources focused on small business recovery and sustainability.

These are difficult times and there are no easy solutions, but with proper planning and support, small businesses can navigate through these crises.

Remember, be strong and take care of yourself spiritually, mentally and physically.

We’re all in this together.

Editor’s Note: The LEE Group (TLG) will be hosting its sixth annual Small Business Workshop.  The free virtual  “Navigating the Headwinds of Crisis” workshop series begins Wednesday, June 17 at 10 a.m. followed by one-hour, sessions June 24, July 15, July 22 and July 29th.  Each session will focus on navigating business challenges during a crisis.  Register here

Lead image courtesy of Nat Zorach


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