What 2021 could mean for small businesses

The Daily Herald Business Ledger hosts an annual Business and Economic Outlook forum each year. As we gathered in 2019 for breakfast and a panel discussion about the 2020 business outlook, a devastating pandemic was not on our radar. We could not predict the unprecedented challenges the small business community would confront in March and face throughout the remainder of the year.

During our 2020 business outlook some important themes emerged. We talked about whether the pandemic has permanently changed our economy. As I looked at my fellow panelists in their Zoom boxes and watched comments come into the chat, I expressed my view that our economic landscape has forever shifted. There is no doubt many things should return to their pre-pandemic state. It also seems undeniable that some changes are here to stay.

I firmly believe it is paramount for politicians to pass legislation that helps resilient Americans and small business owners prepare for a post-pandemic economy. Accordingly, the Small Business Advocacy Council is strongly advocating for a tax credit that will incentivize small businesses to retrain and hire those who have lost their jobs or businesses because of the pandemic.

There are small businesses in the technology and manufacturing sectors that have not been decimated by the pandemic and are looking for qualified employees. Providing them the means to train someone without experience in those fields will help get folks safely back to work and reduce unemployment. It is a long-term investment in Illinoisans and our state.

Our forum also reiterated the importance of small business owners having trusted advisers that have their backs during the most difficult of times. Too many small business owners were forced to wait an unreasonable length of time to secure prior PPP funding because they did not have a strong relationship with a banking partner.

These small businesses were put in peril because their funding needs were immediate but not processed in a timely manner. Small businesses have also been scrambling for information since the pandemic's onset. At times information is difficult to find and other times, information overload causes confusion. This is another compelling reason for small business owners to have strong relationships with trusted advisers.

The Business and Economic Outlook forum also confirmed the importance of the small business community coming together and speaking with a strong and unified voice. Small businesses and local chambers of commerce galvanized to urge Illinois' federal legislative delegation to make PPP funds used to pay salaries and certain business expenses deductible. The came together to strongly advocate that the new stimulus provide relief to struggling chambers of commerce.

These efforts had an impact on the Illinois delegation and ultimately, both PPP deductibility and relief for local chambers were enacted into law. This provided a clear example of the reasons small business advocacy matters.

Our resilient small and local businesses can recover from this pandemic by embracing the changing economic landscape. They will benefit from maintaining and strengthening relationships with financial institutions and trusted advisers. The small business community can continue advocating for policies that will foster growth and a better Illinois economy.

While there is no certainty for 2021, another round a stimulus and the vaccine should provide hope for struggling small businesses. The small business community will continue coming together and that should provide us all with optimism about our outlook in 2021.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advisory Council.

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