Making economic incentives available to small businesses

Small business owners work tirelessly to sustain and grow their businesses. They often must engage in all aspects of the business, serving in numerous roles and juggling both expected and unanticipated issues.

Small businesses are also dealing with numerous external challenges, which include hiring and retaining employees, inflation and the escalating costs of health insurance. This leaves most small businesses little time to investigate, identify and procure government incentives and funding.

Programs designed to support small businesses include grants, tax credits and other financing vehicles. They exist at the federal, state and local levels of government. For example, the federal government offers small business lending programs and grants for smaller companies that participate in the international marketplace.

In Illinois, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity administers numerous programs focused on economic development. These include a low-interest loan program for small businesses, incentives for manufacturers of electronic vehicles and an angel tax credit for investments into qualified new business ventures. A wide range of incentives are also offered by county and municipal governments.

Clearly, a robust number of incentives are available to support entrepreneurs. It is remarkably difficult however, for many small businesses to stay abreast of opportunities, determine the incentives for which they qualify and ultimately, submit the required information.

Making it easier for the small business community to navigate the labyrinth of incentives and successfully apply is crucial. Larger enterprises are far more adept and experienced at finding, processing and procuring government incentives.

The first hurdle is providing informative and concise communications to small businesses about available opportunities. This information can be disseminated in newsletters, via social media and placed onto appropriate websites. Short webinars that highlight incentives and grants can also be extremely beneficial.

Regardless of the medium, consistency is key. It is also crucial to spread the word about incentives and other opportunities in communities throughout Illinois. This will ensure all businesses have an opportunity to access incentives designed to foster their success.

Engagement with policymakers is also needed to ensure adequate time is provided for small businesses to gather documentation and complete applications. This will facilitate the success of incentive programs because tight time constraints may curtail an eligible business from applying for and procuring an incentive.

The simpler the application process is the better. Time is almost always of the essence for small business owners so streamlining applications will help busy small business owners procure available capital and incentives.

Policymakers should engage the small business community to determine the types of incentives which will best support their sustainability and growth. Presently, hiring and retaining employees is one of the most pressing concerns for small businesses.

For that reason, the SBAC is advocating for a child-care tax credit and increased incentives for hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. New challenges will call for new types of incentives. Collaboration between policymakers and the small business community will ensure that programs focused on small businesses will provide them the maximum level of support.

Incentives remain one of the primary tools that policymakers utilize to foster economic development. The SBAC will prioritize spreading the word about current programs and working with legislators to establish future incentives that will support the small business community.

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

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